Rory Patterson presented the report which outlined the outcomes of the 6 recommendations that had arisen from the independent investigation into the whistleblowing allegations in 2018. Recommendations 1, 4, 5 and 6 had been implemented, recommendation 2 would be updated at the next Committee meeting and recommendation 3 would be monitored through the new safeguarding arrangements and would be reported back to Committee.
Giving thanks for the report, the Chair asked for a flowchart of the dispute resolution process that was undertaken in recommendation 3.
Councillor Hague said it was reassuring to know that the whistleblowing allegations had been unsubstantiated. He questioned whether there were any concerns on the outcomes that had come out from the investigation. In reply, Rory Patterson said there was always a concern on how people were working ‘on the ground’. The service had an effective multi-agency service hub (MASH) who worked closely together and concerns were addressed on differences of opinions. Following up, Councillor Hague sought confirmation on whether the service was confident in ‘keeping on top of issues’ following the investigation. With a firm yes, Rory Patterson reassured the Committee that the management team had been strengthened to ensure oversight of the service which was important and front line staff were well supported as always. A recent focused visit had also reported that the service was performing well.
On recommendations 2 and 3, Lynda Pritchard noted these would be reported back to Committee. However, she sought clarification on how the Committee would be able to scrutinise the actions within the report as per paragraph 4.1. Rory Patterson explained that the Committee was expected to look at the impact of the service and maintenance required of the service. A rigorous quality assurance programme was in place to audit cases to ensure the service was working well. The Committee was provided with data and performance details of the service to help give the Committee an idea of what was working well in the service enabling them to perform scrutiny duties.
Following up, the Chair suggested the Committee be provided with key performance indicators (KPIs) which would point the Committee to what needed to be looked at. Instead of just reading reports, charts would be useful to give a clearer picture of the service’s performance. Sheila Murphy, Assistant Director of Children and Families, invited the Committee to visit the social care team and suggested the Committee speak with staff. She thought this idea would enable the Committee to gain a deeper understanding of Children’s Services and identify what other reports they would wish to see in future committee meetings.
On recommendation 3, Paula Robinson commented that partnership working between social workers and managers required the balancing of needs and working creatively on difference of opinions. She asked how confident staff were in using the dispute resolution process and how well supported they were. Sheila Murphy answered that a number of staff briefings were held in different parts of the building to ensure confidentiality. Sheila Murphy attended these and asked staff to openly raise concerns and issues that they had. Drop-in sessions and listening services were also held and support was offered through her blog. She went on to say staff had approached her with ideas and issues so was confident staff had a number of different ways to contact senior staff members.
On Liquidlogic Children’s System (LCS), Paula Robinson agreed that it was a difficult system to use. Rory Patterson explained that the system needed developing but there was no upgrade available. There had been improvements made but work flows within the system could cause delays. The service had tried to cut down on bureaucratic levels to provide more support for social workers and the service was working with colleagues in the eastern region to improve on systems although LCS was one of the better systems.
Referring to paragraph 2.5(b), Councillor Akinbohun questioned whether the service checked if staff read and understood the mini booklet on learning reviews. Alan Cotgrove answered the mini booklets were provided because the learning reviews were usually 30 – 40 pages long so the mini booklets were a summary of these. Booklets were sent to frontline staff and it was the responsibility of the MASH to cascade these. The service could ask for evidence that the mini booklets were cascaded to staff as a way to check that they had read the booklets.
Agreeing with Lynda Pritchard’s earlier point on scrutinising actions, Councillor Hague asked how performance management process would be shown as undertaking best practice within KPIs. Rory Patterson replied that comparative exercises were undertaken against neighbouring authorities and local authorities in the eastern region. The results of these exercises encouraged the service to develop further and the service had just agreed to send data to the Department for Education to show how well the service was performing. The gathered data could help the Committee to ask questions and gain an idea of the technical issues within the service. Quality assurance was carried out through audit programmes, the performance of social workers and the success of workshops.
Following up, Councillor Hague said the Committee wanted to be sure that they were performing good scrutiny. Rory Patterson suggested that reports could be brought to Committee on certain subject areas. Further training on KPIs and the service could be provided to the Committee in the new municipal year.
Noting the amount of time spent on data accumulation, Councillor Rigby questioned whether social workers ‘crunched numbers’. Giving assurance, Rory Patterson confirmed social workers did not ‘crunch numbers’. Social workers would input data into the LSC and other staff members would build a narrative on the given data. Each manager was provided with a dashboard with this narrative and data in their areas of work and social workers were to focus on their work.
That the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted the progress made in implementing the recommendations from Whistleblowing Review.