The report on pages 117 – 126 was presented by Malcolm Taylor.
The Chair was pleased that a telephone service had been set up for the School Wellbeing Service (SWS) and questioned whether there had been feedback on it. Malcolm Taylor answered that the telephone service had started off slow but have had schools and parents directed to this to have longer conversations and discussion of other issues. Some of these calls had led to virtual meetings that involved the school’s Educational Psychologist. The telephone service had enabled school staff members to also use the wellbeing service for more supervision and support.
Councillor Akinbohun queried what support children had been receiving since they had been at home. She also questioned if there had been an increase in referrals to the SWS this year and if the service had the capacity to meet a high level of demand. Malcolm Taylor explained that schools were the first point of contact for raising and identifying concerns which was referred to the school’s psychologist or the school’s wellbeing service and for further support, the SWS would be contacted. Children at home were supported and some children found it easier to discuss issues through a digital medium as they felt more in control and did not have the social complications in a face-to-face meeting. The service continued to talk with schools on children at home who needed additional support and ensuring that those children had access to services whilst at home including the online services that were already established and linked into schools.
Malcolm Taylor explained that research had shown an increase in the number of referrals for wellbeing services and counselling services on a national and regional level. There was a national programme on training, support and recovery for schools and the service was engaging with schools where there were issues identified. The service was working on resilience building within school systems so teachers were able to identify children with particular difficulties and prioritising those with longer term difficulties. He went on to say that there had been an increase in referral rates and there was a significant level of demand but the SWS was well-established so had that additional level of support. The service was looking at capacity levels to that support and had also worked with schools to develop additional services for 16 – 18 year olds who were at higher risk of anxieties and difficulties.
Councillor Muldowney welcomed the SWS and was pleased to see a programme on resilience building within schools. Referring to the Brighter Futures Survey on page 121, she questioned if the process had started up again. Malcolm Taylor answered that the survey was being undertaken with schools again and that before lockdown, an initial evaluation through a comparative study had been the plan but would not be suitable now due to the impact of COVID-19 and the timescales. The service was now moving forward with all schools to have interventions in place and the team working on the Brighter Futures Survey aimed to complete it this term but was proving to be difficult because of access to IT suites. Support would continue to be offered but the service was mindful to offer the right level of support based on current needs and there had been significant changes to the structure of the evaluation to ensure the better outcomes and focus on delivery. Councillor Muldowney felt it was good to have flexibility and praised the staff and teachers in school on their good work despite being under a lot of pressure and stress due to their immense workload.
Councillor Rigby queried whether there was data showing the number of parents or children referring themselves to the wellbeing service compared to the schools or professional bodies referring children. Malcolm Taylor explained that it would be difficult to extract that data but in schools, children were referred where concerns were identified. For self-referrals, these were from parents rather than children themselves but children were able to access other services. Where concerns were referred to SWS, a risk assessment on the child’s wellbeing was also undertaken.
Referring to page 119, Councillor Okunade noted that 80% of schools had completed a Mental Health Action Plan and although 20% was a small number, there could be children in that number that really needed the SWS. She questioned how the service was going to ensure 100% on that target to ensure no child missed out on accessing the SWS. Malcolm Taylor said the work had been impacted by the pandemic and the service intended to reach 100%. Schools also had their own plans in place and the support of the other services they used. The service would be contacting schools that had not shown a completed plan to the Council which may have been due to staffing issues at the time but there were no concerns on the plans identified in any schools. There were also regular discussions between Sheila Murphy and Chief Executives of Thurrock’s Academies where issues were picked up and to ensure schools were thinking about the children’s welfare.
In regards to recommendation 1.1, the Chair asked that a member of the School Wellbeing Service provide an update to the Committee on a quarterly basis.
1.1 Children’s Services Overview & Scrutiny to identify how they would like the new team to report back – to provide an update on a quarterly basis.
1.2 Children’s Services Overview & Scrutiny to note the work that has taken place.
The Committee agreed to suspend standing orders at 9.17pm to allow all the items on the Agenda to be heard.