To receive a report from the Executive Member for Children’s Services.
The Executive Member for Children’s Services stated that the report had been brought to the Committee as regular updates had been provided to the Children and Young Peoples Scrutiny Committee prior to the Pandemic. Since the last update a large amount of work had been done and progress had been made by the Council. Despite that progress there were still a many improvements to be made within Children’s services. The outbreak of COVID 19 had brought additional challenges to completing the Council’s improvement plan, such as keeping contact with vulnerable children and young people while sticking to the guidelines regarding contact.
Following the Executive Members opening remarks the Corporate Director for Children’s Services provided an overview of the report which had been circulated with the agenda. The report had provided a high level of detail for the Committee due to the amount of time that had passed and the amount of work that had to be covered. Broadly speaking the findings of the Ofsted report were based upon the leadership and management of Trafford’s Children’s services and what they understood about frontline services. In response to this Trafford had strengthened management arrangements, re-evaluated the role of what management was, and how it supported frontline staff. Issues around consistency of service provided to families across the borough had been identified and needed to be addressed. To tackle this Trafford had put new leadership arrangements in place from top to bottom of the service. An important element was making sure that all staff members had manageable caseloads and were receiving adequate support to fulfil their role.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID 19 the service had planned to hold of a number of workshops to maximise the levels of inclusion in the development of the improvement plan. Those planned workshops were not able to go ahead due to being in lockdown. Ofsted were due to conduct a visit but were also unable to because of the lockdown. A remote review was carried out instead and noted that significant progress had been made around governance, quality assurance, and leadership. Ofsted also noted significant improvements had been made to the front door service and the balance of caseloads for social workers. Ofsted identified the need for Trafford to accelerate their improvement plans and the service addressed this by focusing on getting their approach right by going back to basics with the main focus of the service being to help children and families, to visit children and families, and to talk and listen to them. Multiagency arrangements had been kept in place throughout the pandemic and partners had been involved in refreshing the improvement plan.
The Committee were informed that a new director for early help and children’s social care had been recruited in replacement of Cathy Rooney who had retired after many years of service. A strategic lead role for practice improvement and learning had been appointed whose role was to implement a model of coaching and support for front line practitioners.
Work had been carried out to ensure that the quality assurance framework was making a difference. An independent consultant had been hired to review service managers’ skills around quality assessment. The outcome was that there was now a detailed plan of support for each manager in place at every level. There were elements of practice that still needed to be strengthened thorough meeting with children, young people, and families to understand what life was like for them. The service also needed to have oversight of every contact and interaction with the front door.
The pandemic had created a number of differences in working practice and guidance and support had been provided to address those changes. Multiagency processes had been maintained during the pandemic and the service had focused on the impact the pandemic upon children in care, especially around placement stability and the wrap around services for placements.
A detailed piece of work had been completed which identified the issues around support for practitioners and a range of performance clinics and auditing had been brought in to embed quality assurance systems across the service. A phased approach was being taken so that it felt as though the goals were achievable while also being challenging. The Committee were assured that the improvement Board continued to meet regularly and provide challenge and scrutiny of the service.
Following the overview members were given the opportunity to ask questions. The Chair asked how the Committee fitted into the performance management of the services. The Corporate Director for Children’s Services responded that they would like to be invited back to scrutiny on an agreed frequency to report on performance against the key performance indicators listed within each of the ambitions within the improvement plan.
The Chair asked what impact the work of the external consultant had on the service and how staff felt about it. The Corporate Director for Children’s Services responded that the work that was done by the consultant represented a change in culture within the service. Many staff members had spoken of the sessions they had as “lightbulb” moments and had generally embraced the new approach. The approach involved a shift towards a coaching model of support and challenge for staff at all levels with the service embracing learning and creating opportunities for learning and growth wherever possible.
The Vice Chair asked what issues were being identified as a result of the pandemic and how well was the Council working with schools. The Corporate Director for Children’s Services responded that the Council’s relationship with schools had greatly improved throughout the pandemic. The Council had developed a rapid alert system with schools to identify when Children were not attending school. Early help panels were running and schools were providing information to those panels to identify any potential issues. Attendance at multi-agency meetings had been good throughout the pandemic and the service had seconded a former head teacher to aid with the development of the early help work. 85.1% of children in Trafford who had a social worker had been attending school which was higher than both the North West and National average. The work that had been done throughout the pandemic had created a much better understanding of the issues the Council and schools shared and what needed to be done to address those issues.
Trafford’s Children and young people in care had been supported by the virtual school throughout the pandemic and that support had been broadened to include children who were involved with social care but still lived with their parents. Some children and young people had responded extremely well to the support being offered during the pandemic and actually preferred accessing the service remotely. The Council had worked with schools to create a film called transitions which was about children’s lived experiences during the pandemic and the Committee were encouraged to watch it.
Councillor Thompson asked about the work around recruitment and retention and when it was expected that the Council would see results. The Corporate Director of Children’s services responded that the work had only just been completed and had identified some underlying issues that needed addressing. The Corporate Director was not able to provide a time line but informed the Committee of the next steps that were to be taken and how the information gained from that detailed piece of work would be utilised going forward.
Councillor Coggins asked about the level of cases that staff had and how Trafford compared to the LGA benchmark. Councillor Coggins noted the report mentioned that there were still some capacity issues at senior leadership level and asked what that entailed and why. The Corporate Director of Children’s services responded that the average of cases loads was still under 20 but there was variance among staff. The service was looking at staff members who had more than 20 cases to see why they had more than 20 and to identify the support they needed. The service did have increased capacity through agency staff and this was going to be increased further to deal with the increase in demand for services that had been seen along with some variances in staff levels. In addition to looking at the number of cases that staff had the service reviewed the types of cases that each staff member was working on to fully understand their workload.
The Corporate Director of Children’s Services informed the Committee that two senior management positions had only just been recruited to and the candidates were yet to start. The service was also providing additional support to managers to increase capacity through their development.
Councillor Dillon asked how the service was assessing the outcome for children and their families. The Corporate Director responded that currently the performance data that was available was quantitative and they were looking at broadening this to include qualitative data. This would be added through conversational audits, which were conversations with children and families that recorded their feedback on the service, what was working well, and what needed to be improved. This model was used by some teams but it was being rolled out across the whole service.
Following the Committees questions the Chair thanked the Corporate Director of Children’s Services and all the staff within the service for their hard work.
1) That the report be noted.
2) That a schedule for updates to the Committee is to be agreed.
3) That all Committee Members are encouraged to watch the transitions video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg94Ksp5NDc.
4) That the Corporate Director of Children’s Services and all staff within the service be thanked for their hard work.