The report was presented by Mandy Moore.
Referring to paragraph 3.4, Councillor Muldowney sought more details on the number of children leaving and entering care and the impact of Covid-19 on this. Janet Simon explained that in 2019-2020, there had been a large number of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) who were accommodated and this number had decreased this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. She mentioned that a few large sibling groups had come into care in February 2020 which had impacted the figures and the number of children in care tended to remain static as some stayed in care longer due to the Covid-19 pandemic or because it was the right place for children at that time. The service held a weekly Placement Panel to discuss children coming into care and worked with families to try to keep children within families if possible. A number of checks and balances were in place alongside care plans and trackers to ensure the right decision was made for children coming into care and continually updated. She went on to say that if a child needed to come into care through a referral, discussions would take place with the parents to assess whether a voluntary arrangement or emergency protection order was needed for the child to come into care. The emergency protection order would enable the service 72 hours for the case to go through the court.
Referring to paragraph 7.1, Councillor Raper questioned whether there were measures in place to address the drop in care leavers in Education, Employment or Training (EET). Naintara Khosla explained that the drop was a direct impact of Covid-19 in the 18 – 21 years old cohort where most of Thurrock’s young people had been trying to find work. The service had a programme in place alongside Inspire Youth Hub to support young people in CVs and interviews. A bespoke panel also looked at the interests of a young person to match them with a suitable job depending on the availability of work. The service was working towards a September offer to try to encourage young people to get back into college or work and was currently making full use of the Kickstart programme.
Referring to paragraph 8.1, Councillor Pothecary noted that the net gain of a foster household over a two year period was one and sought more details. She felt that it would be useful to see some contextual data behind the figures and compared against neighbouring local authorities. Naintara Khosla answered that a small gain of a foster household and not a decrease was considered successful. It was challenging to recruit foster carers and the service was doing well in the current climate to break even. She said that the service had a good marketing plan to achieve 20 additional foster households. Janet Simon added that the service also took into consideration of the number of children in care and depended on how many a foster household could take. She went on to say that fostering had been successful during the pandemic and the service worked with the foster carers to ensure this. The last three years had seen the service set higher standards for foster carers and some foster carers had withdrawn through this but the standard of care was important for the children in care.
Councillor Polley pointed out Thurrock’s neighbouring local authorities and commented that she had heard suggestions before that London boroughs gave better fostering incentives. She was pleased to see the work that the service had undertaken to ensure Thurrock’s foster carers were supported. She asked which local authorities was Thurrock compared against and if there were other reasons (other than Covid-19) why foster households had withdrawn from fostering. Janet Simon answered that statistical neighbours included Medway, Bexley, Bromley, Swindon and Peterborough to name a few but not all performed the same as Thurrock in regards to the number of looked after children. She said that for foster care, the service compared themselves against bordering neighbours such as Essex and Southend in terms of pay and support. This had helped the service to review their procedures and standards to ensure the service had the right foster carers. Thurrock also offered a unique incentive which was the council tax exemption and some local authorities further away also offered this and had seen success. She also said that agency foster carers did not offer more than Thurrock.
The Vice-Chair noted the success in paragraph 5.4 and commended the service for this. She questioned the acronym of SGO in 3.5. Janet Simon explained that this was Special Guardianship Order which meant a permanency placement for a child in foster care.
Referring to page 17 on the increase and decrease of children coming into care, Councillor Muldowney asked if there were underlying factors for this change. Referring to 4.2, she also sought more details on the overrepresentation of children in youth detention from the BAME community. Janet Simon answered that the number of children coming into or leaving care fluctuated and that there was no specific reason for this. She said that last year had seen a big increase because a number of large families had coming into the borough and neglect was a significant issue.
In regards to 4.2, Clare Moore explained that this was a national issues which stemmed back to the police in the amount of stop and searches and arrests with young black males. This had led to an overrepresentation which enabled BAME children to be diverted from the criminal justice system. This diversion work enabled interventions to be provided to BAME children.
The Chair noted that there was a backlog of cases in the courts and questioned how long this would take to be resolved. Janet Simon explained that meetings were being held with the judiciary and that younger children and babies for adoption were being prioritised. The service was looking at remote hearings and spaces in court to prioritise these permanency places.
Councillor Pothecary referred to section three of the report and asked that future reports include the performance data of CLA by disability as well.
1.1 That Members noted the areas of improvement in Children’s Social Care and note the work that is undertaken to ensure good and improving performance.
1.2 Noted the impact of COVID 19 on performance.