Agenda and minutes

Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Tuesday, 8th February, 2022 7.00 pm

Venue: Training Room, The Beehive Community Resource Centre, Grays, RM17 6XP

Contact: Lucy Tricker, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email:

No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 314 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting held on 11 November 2021 and 1 December 2021.


Additional documents:


There minutes of the meeting held on 11 November 2021 and 1 December 2021 were approved as a true and correct record.


Items of Urgent Business

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972. To agree any relevant briefing notes submitted to the Committee.


There were no items of urgent business. The briefing note submitted to the Committee regarding the work of Inspire was agreed.


Declaration of Interests


There were no declarations of interest.

Councillor Akinbohun arrived at 7.04pm.


Youth Cabinet Update


The Youth Cabinet Representative provided their update and explained that they were working on the ‘Make Your Mark’ challenge, which helped young people with mental health difficulties around Thurrock. She explained that Youth Cabinet were also working with the Education and Wellbeing in Schools Service to develop a questionnaire regarding young people’s mental health to ensure the campaigns would be the most effective. She stated that they were also working with Essex Police on the ‘Speak Out, Speak Up, Speak Big’ campaign to produce a video regarding crime that would be posted on social media as the Youth Cabinet had found that current Essex Police videos aimed at young people had not been engaging. She added that Youth Cabinet were also going into schools to debate and educate young people on hate crime, and were producing a leaflet in partnership with the Hate Crime Officer, which was aimed at 9-13 year olds and would explain hate crime and how to report it.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills questioned how the work of Youth Cabinet and Essex Police could link with schools. The Youth Cabinet Representative explained that Youth Cabinet were engaging in the ‘Make your Mark’ campaign by promoting the work of Essex Police in schools and making posters. The Chair asked how Youth Cabinet were working to improve engagement between schools and the ‘Make your Mark’ campaign. The Youth Cabinet Representative replied that the ‘Make your Mark’ campaign would be promoted on social media and would be discussed within schools. The Chair thanked Youth Cabinet for their hard work throughout the year, and for their continued attendance at Children’s O&S Committees.

The Youth Cabinet Representative and Youth Support Worker left the meeting at 7.09pm.


Items Raised by Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Partnership: Progress Update on Peer Review & Case Review - Action Plans pdf icon PDF 323 KB

Additional documents:


The LSCP Business Manager introduced the report and stated that it provided an update on the work of the LSCP and the progress that had been made on action plans. She stated that the Partnership were currently working on updating the service’s priorities. She commented that the current priorities included neglect, participation and engagement, and violence and vulnerability. She explained that this work included consulting with frontline practitioners regarding their emerging concerns, and she hoped the new priorities would be agreed by the end of March 2022. She explained that a roundtable meeting had been held in December 2021 regarding the new priorities, and a frontline practitioner questionnaire had been circulated, which would close on Friday 18 February. She explained that once the feedback had been analysed, the Partnership would then choose the new priorities based on this and other factors, and would work with the Health and Wellbeing Board and Community Safety Partnership to ensure the new priorities would support their ongoing work. She stated that identified priorities for 2022-24 would need to be processed via the LSCP governance processes, but that the Partnership had been working with the Safeguarding Adults Board, the Health and Wellbeing Board, and the Community Safety Partnership to devise and agree a shared priorities document. She explained that the document would be dynamic so that it could be updated as boards and partnerships updated their priorities.

The LSCP Business Manager added that in October 2021 a Children’s Social Care conference entitled ‘Building Better Connections’ had taken place, during which 140 people, including frontline practitioners and Councillors, had discussed the emerging theme of extra-familial harm. She added that the Partnership were also undertaking audits as per their annual audit schedule during which deep dives were conducted into randomly selected cases to ensure the Partnership was performing well, highlighting areas of good practice, and identifying areas that needed additional work. She explained that if certain areas were identified as needing additional work, a re-audit may be undertaken later on in the year to closely monitor the Partnerships progress. She added that the LSCP Business team were collating the Safeguarding in Education audits. She commented that a report was currently being written and any learning would be shared directly with schools and via learning and development events. 

The LSCP Business Manager moved on and stated that the LSCP also commissioned a detailed Thematic Review of Serious Youth Violence and Gang Related Violence, which was a result of an incident between two young people. She explained that the LSCP worked with an external reviewer to see what areas had worked well and what lessons could be learnt. She stated that the report regarding this thematic review would be published at the end of February or early March, and multi-agency meetings would be called to discuss the recommendations from this review. She added that the LSCP had also formed a Neglect Sub-Group, which was a multi-agency partnership group to reduce neglect in Thurrock and ensure that a framework was  ...  view the full minutes text for item 46.


Verbal Update: Written Statement of Action - Outcome of Re-Visit


The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it outlined the recent Ofsted revisit report that would be published on Thursday. She explained that Ofsted had felt that Thurrock had made sufficient progress on all areas since the inspection in 2019, and although there was some further work to be completed, she and the team felt pleased with the report. She explained that she had uploaded all of the relevant Children’s O&S reports and appendices to Ofsted, and the Ofsted inspector had reported that these had been useful and had been pleased that O&S had shown a keen interest in the progress of the recommendations. She felt that lots of hard work had gone into the re-visit and many partners had been included. She stated that the team worked hard to ensure the child was always at the centre of the service and the team made a difference in children’s lives. The Corporate Director Children’s Services added that she had felt it had been a fair report and good things had been achieved by the team. She felt that there were some areas to improve, but lots of hard work had been undertaken so far.

The Chair felt pleased to see that Thurrock had made sufficient progress on all recommendations and that the Committee had been helpful in ensuring this had happened. She thanked officers for their hard work over the past few years and congratulated them on their achievement. Councillor Snell echoed the Chair’s comments and thanked the team for their excellent work.


Home to School Transport pdf icon PDF 386 KB


The Strategic Lead Education Support Service introduced the report and stated that it provided an overview of home to school transport. She explained that Thurrock Council had a statutory duty to ensure children between the ages of 5 and 16, and in some cases young people up to age 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), could get to school. She stated that currently Thurrock Council assisted 1161 pupils get to school, either through contracted bus routes, train ticket reimbursement, or payments to parents for fuel. She stated that the Council were committed to ensuring sustainable home to school travel for children, and the team were currently undertaking a review of school routes, including those that had previously been deemed unsafe.

The Strategic Lead Education Support Service explained that the team were considering introducing travel training for young people in education that had complex SEND needs. She felt that this would help some young people with SEND become more independent as they would have someone accompanying them on their route to and from school for a minimum of three months, with a view to them completing an assessment and becoming able to travel on their own. She stated that for those children with highly complex needs, for example children attending Beacon Hill Academy, all passenger transport would be retained. She added that the team were also introducing a new IT module that would help support transport providers and contracted route drivers.

The Strategic Lead Education Support Service moved on and explained that although the team were considering all routes to school, no decision had been taken yet, in particular no decision regarding the route from East Tilbury to St Cleres. She explained that the team regularly reviewed and investigated routes to schools and would continue to consider potential alternative options for travel, for example pupils utilising the train service. She stated that no conclusions or decisions had been agreed, but legal advice was being sought to determine which routes had the potential to be made safe. She stated that the team would be talking to parents, Councillors and the school before any decision was made. She explained that currently six buses took children from East Tilbury to St Cleres, and the team would be looking at all safety and capacity aspects, and had undertaken a professional risk assessment. She explained that the eligibility criteria for free home to school transport would remain the same and therefore any child with a low income family, or who lived more than three miles away from their school, would be eligible to apply for free travel.

The Strategic Lead Education Support Service explained that for some post-16 students who would not be able to utilise contracted travel anymore, the travel training programme would be offered, which would help improve their independence. She added that the team were currently working with year 11 students regarding travel training, but this would be lowered so year 9 students would also be able to access the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 48.


Education and Skills Operating Model pdf icon PDF 282 KB


The Assistant Director Education and Skills introduced the report and stated that it had been requested by the Committee in October 2021 and outlined the new operating model for the education and skills team. She stated that the Council remained committed to skills training for people aged 0-99, including early years and adult learning. She stated that a review had been undertaken that had helped to realign the work done by the team, particularly since all schools bar one had become academies. She explained that as a new teaching hub had been opened at Harris Academy, some posts within the team had been removed as their function was now undertaken by the schools themselves, including governor development training.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills commented that the Council had also been looking at repetitive tasks, such as data entry, and how this could be effectively streamlined. She explained that the team had therefore merged SEND data systems, and this had been highlighted by Ofsted as good practice. She explained that the nurseries previously run by Thurrock Council were now out to procurement, which would finish in March. She added that recently the team had been focusing on children that were electively home educated (EHE), as following COVID approximately eighteen children had not returned to school for mental health and anxiety reasons. She explained that these children had all returned to school now, but highlighted that the team were factoring in the impact of COVID when meeting with pupils, particularly those year 11 pupils who would be taking their GCSEs this year.

The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that the Education Support Service had been streamlined, as it was now under one strategic lead. She added that the Inspire programme was also continuing well, as it attracted significant external funding, and was currently in the middle of a programme regarding young people aged 16-25 that were not in employment, education or training (NEETs). She stated that currently the number of young people whose whereabouts in the system was unknown was zero, thanks to the hard work of the Inspire team. The Assistant Director Education and Skills explained that the adult community college was also under operating under a new model, as they had relocated to the South Essex College building and had mobilised their online learning platforms quickly at the start of the pandemic.

Councillor Anderson asked if the Council made contact with new EHE cases, and if a parent could be deemed unfit for home education. The Assistant Director Education and Skills replied that all EHE parents were met with and RAG rated. She added that if a parent was RAG rated red the team would encourage parents to consider other options for schooling, and would be continually monitored in partnership with the parent. She stated that during COVID the number of EHE parents had significantly increased, and robust processes had been put in place. She stated that there were local forums for EHE parents who supported each other,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 49.


Children's Social Care Operating Model pdf icon PDF 257 KB


The Corporate Director Children’s Services introduced the report and stated that it followed on from the previous report as it reported on savings within the new Children’s Services operating model. She explained that the Children’s Services team would be operating under the Think Families approach as of 1 April 2022, which would help address demand across the service. She highlighted point 3.2 of the report and stated that the Think Families approach considered the whole family within health and social care, which would help to improve outcomes for children, and build stronger relationships within families. The Corporate Director Children’s Services explained that the Think Families approach did not just consider close family, but could also mean neighbours or family friends that were important to the child in question, and would help support parental networks and open broader conversations for struggling families. She explained that if a family were becoming known to Children’s Services, the team would ask the families what could be done to assist them and a consultation would begin with parents, family members, and partners such as schools and hospitals.

The Corporate Director Children’s Services highlighted point 3.4 of the report and mentioned that learning and feedback from team members had informed the new model and the team had focussed on what the service could deliver to parents and children. She explained that under the old model Children’s Services had had to employ external agencies to undertake child assessments, but this was now being brought in-house and colleagues were undertaking the necessary training to complete these assessments. She added that the Think Families approach would connect families and build relationships that would be beneficial for the child, and would be based at the Oaktree Centre as this was a more inviting environment for children than the Civic Offices. The Corporate Director Children’s Services stated that under the old model the team had used the Family Group Conferencing system, whereby staff members had to undertake specific certification for this and the model had to be absolutely applied. She stated that this system had been time intensive as all named individuals had to be met with separately before a group meeting could take place. She explained that under the new operating model, the team would be utilising the Family Group Network approach that had been developed in New Zealand, and ensured the family found their own solutions to problems, with the help of professionals. She stated that this approach empowered families, strengthened networks and was in line with best practice guidance.

The Chair thanked officers for their comprehensive report and felt it was good to see how the new model would affect children and their families. She felt that it was a sensible way of finding cost-saving measures, whilst also enhancing the experience for families. She felt that having colleagues who could assess and help children would improve the experience for children who could then form bonds with their case worker. Councillor Snell echoed the Chair’s comments and felt that  ...  view the full minutes text for item 50.


Inspire - Head Start Housing: Supporting Care Leavers pdf icon PDF 254 KB


The Inspire Skills Manager introduced the report and stated that the Head Start Housing (HSH) programme had been piloted in 2016 and provided care leavers with a tailored approach to housing. She stated that the programme had launched in December 2018 and had outlined the strategy for transitional housing for care leavers, before they entered the private rental or social housing market. She explained that in 2018 there had been 30 beds allocated to HSH for exclusive use by care leavers, and this had been expanded when the Council had purchased an additional three properties that provided an extra twelve beds. She explained that HSH Officers sourced and managed properties, and provided basic furniture and amenities, such as beds, curtains, Wi-Fi and water, and helped care leavers access the Local Council Tax Scheme. She stated that when the report had been written there had been an occupancy rate of 95.56%, but this had now increased and there were currently two rooms available, both of which were undergoing maintenance before they could be re-let.

The Inspire Skills Manager stated that the HSH Strategy had required refreshing in 2021 as the Council currently tried to encourage care leavers to remain in Thurrock, which was not what was best for some young people. She stated that the team were now working to continue to help young people who wanted to move out of the borough, and in the next five years the team would exchange all private rental HSH properties for council stock. She added that the team were also working hard to develop neglected sites across the borough into single bed units, with the possibility of care leavers being involved in the construction and design of these units.

Councillor Kent thanked officers for their hard work on the report and queried the forecasted overspend of the service. He queried if the HSH strategy was sustainable in the medium to long term. The Inspire Skills Manager replied that the spend of the HSH transitional accommodation had increased during COVID, and the current overspend was £900,000. She stated that the commissioning team were working with HSH officers to invite providers to tender to supply housing. She added that there were currently more than 50 beds for care leavers, which cost the Council £156 per bed, per week, which she felt was sustainable for the long term and met current levels of demand. She added that the HSH team would work with colleagues in Children’s Social Care and Housing to mitigate any financial issues if they arose. The Corporate Director Children’s Social Care added that the £900,000 overspend was a part of the overall Children’s Social Care overspend.

RESOLVED: That the Committee:

1. Reviewed the cross-directorate working to improve the quality of services to care leavers regarding housing options.

2. Supported and promoted innovative ways to engage children in care and care leavers to prepare for independent living including entry into employment.


Work Programme pdf icon PDF 236 KB


The Senior Democratic Services Officer stated that under the scrutiny review, any relevant motions that had been agreed at Full Council would be brought before Committee for their oversight. As this was the last meeting of the municipal year, there were no items to add to the Work Programme.