Minutes of the Meeting of the Joint Committee on Children and Young People held in the Board Room, Assynt House, Beechwood Park, Inverness on Friday 13 August 2010 at 10.30 am.
Ms P Courcha
Mrs J Baird
Mr I Gibson
Mr C Punler
Mrs M C Davidson (in the Chair)
Mr W Fernie
Mrs E McAllister
Mr D Fallows
Mrs I Bloomfield, Resources Manager, Fostering and Adoption
Ms M Campbell, Development Officer (Disability)
Miss J Maclennan, Principal Administrator, Chief Executive’s Office
Miss M Murray, Committee Administrator, Chief Executive’s Office
Highland Council / NHS
Mr J King, Head of Children’s Services
Ms J Douglas, Children’s Champion
Mrs L Munro, Children’s Champion
Mr C Munro, Highland Children’s Forum
Mrs A Brady, Care and Learning Alliance
Ms A Darlington, Action for Children
Mr K Ross, Depute Chairman, Highland Children’s Panel
Ms C MacLean, Children in the Highlands Information Point + (CHIP+)
1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Dr M E M Foxley, Mr A M Millar, Mrs E MacDonald, Mrs G McCreath, Dr M Somerville, Mrs H Dempster, Mrs M E Paterson, Ms S Amor and Mr A Geddes.
2. Minutes of Meetings
NOTED the following Minutes of Meetings:-
i. Joint Committee on Children and Young People (JCCYP) held on
4 June 2010
ii. Joint Child Protection Committee held on 10 June 2010.
Also NOTED the following in relation to the JCCYP Minutes:-
i. Item 6 – Vulnerable Families Pathway – Ms S Harrington was a Midwife
ii. Item 8 – Future Business of the JCCYP – the proposed report on
Guardianship would be presented to the Council’s Housing and Social Work
3. Revenue Budget – Outturn 2009/10 and Monitoring as at 30
Report No CYP-22-10 by Jonathan King, Head of Children’s Services set out the revenue monitoring position for the JCCYP budget for the three months to 30 June 2010, which showed a significant projected overspend on placements for Looked After Children. The final outturn position for the 2009/10 budget was also provided for comparison. A revised monitoring statement for the three months to 30 June 2010 was tabled.
With regard to the projected overspend on the Out of Authority Placements budget, work was ongoing by the Residential Placement Group to reduce the impact by seeking to expedite the return of children in out of authority placements to Highland and reduce the number of new placements. In addition, a range of measures had been introduced to reduce expenditure on other budget headings. In particular, tight controls had been imposed on the filling of vacancies, however, it was critical that frontline services were maintained. Work was ongoing by the Children’s Services Management Team to ensure that efficiency savings were achieved in a balanced way.
In response to questions it was explained that:-
- while there was a considerable underspend on most budget headings in 2009/10, this was largely due to a high level of staff vacancies which were filled as the year progressed;
- the annual budget for 2010/11 had been reduced as part of the budget savings agreed by the Council;
- the Northern Lights service was expected to be operational by October 2010, subject to completion of the building, and would create capacity for five children currently in out of authority placements to return to Highland;
- the decision making process in relation to out of authority placements was based on the Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) principles and the Child’s Plan;
- there were currently seven posts being held vacant, four of which were part-time, however, it was not considered viable that they be held indefinitely; and
- in relation to the group of children with significant disabilities who were in out of authority placements, all but one would be over 16 by the end of the year and this was evidence of the increasing success in maintaining children with disabilities in Highland.
During discussion, the following comments were made:-
- it would be useful to receive regular position statements in relation to the number and location of children in residential placements and the costs thereof;
- a clearer indication of where budget savings were being made, including a detailed analysis of unfilled vacancies and the potential impact on frontline services, was required and it was suggested that an Action Plan be provided to Members of the Joint Committee in advance of the October meeting;
- there might be instances where it would be more beneficial for a child to remain in an out of authority placement and it was important that each case was considered on its merits;
- if there was a possibility of frontline posts being held vacant then that should be identified as a risk in future reports;
- it was suggested that a briefing note be provided to Members of the Joint Committee on the positive impact of the provision of supported housing in Highland for young people with disabilities; and
- an update on the Northern Lights building should be sought from Barnardo’s in advance of the October Committee.
i. NOTED the revenue monitoring position and the management actions
being taken to improve the projected outturn;
ii. AGREED that a position statement in relation to the number of Looked
After Children in residential placements be provided to Members of the
JCCYP on a regular basis;
iii. AGREED that an Action Plan in relation to the JCCYP budget, including a
detailed analysis of unfilled vacancies and the potential impact on frontline
services, be provided to Members in advance of the Joint Committee
scheduled to take place on 1 October 2010;
iv. AGREED that a briefing note on the provision of supported housing in
Highland for young people with disabilities be provided to Members of the
v. AGREED that an update on the Northern Lights Project be sought from
Barnardo’s in advance of the Joint Committee scheduled to take place on
1 October 2010.
4. Play Strategy 2005-2010 and 2011-16
Declaration of Interest – Mr C Munro declared a financial interest in this item given that Highland Children’s Forum was a potential tenderer for the proposed consultation exercise and left the room.
Report No CYP-23-10 by Jonathan King, Head of Children’s Services summarised progress to date in delivering the 2005-2010 Play Strategy and recommended a way forward for 2011 and beyond.
Work on the 2005-2010 Play Strategy was substantially complete and it was important to consider what the priorities should be for the next five years. It was therefore proposed that the balance of the Play Development budget be used to meet the cost of third sector partner(s) carrying out a consultation with stakeholders, young people and families on their aspirations for play development in Highland. The responses would then be reviewed by Council Services and partners to determine what could be delivered within existing budgets and a report would be presented to the Joint Committee recommending future actions.
During discussion, the following comments were made:-
- there were huge challenges to be faced in terms of resources and it was important to engage with those communities that wanted play facilities to gain their support;
- play areas should be included in the developer contribution element of new housing developments;
- Community Councils and Tenants Participation Officers could inform community groups in relation to sourcing external funding;
- play was not just about facilities but about giving children the opportunity to have fun in imaginative ways and take risks, as well as giving adults the confidence to let them;
- clarification was sought in relation to the targets which had not been met and whether they would be incorporated into a new Strategy;
- the importance of cross-service working was emphasised;
- there were a range of things in a similar category to the Play Strategy, for example, music tuition and the Bookstart programme, which would potentially be affected by the current budgetary pressures and it was suggested that they be examined in conjunction to establish the impact that a reduction in services might have on children and families;
- the proposed consultation could raise expectations of funding that might not be available in the future;
- alternative ways of delivering services should be explored and the proposed consultation could lead to innovative ideas;
- the Strategy used terms such as “encouraged” and it was suggested that it should be more strongly worded;
- clarification was sought on whether the actions that had been overtaken by the Curriculum for Excellence were no longer relevant or were they being delivered by Head Teachers;
- the imortance of listening to the views of children and young people was emphasised;
- the consultation should be expanded to include Head Teachers;
- the recognition of the voluntary sector was welcomed;
- Arms Length Organisations (ALO) were able to access funding that was not available to the Council and the possibility of establishing an ALO for play development should be investigated;
- here was insufficient reference to young carers or children with disabilities in the current Strategy; and
- in addition to the consultation on the future of play, an evaluation of the current Strategy was required and it was suggested that this be included in the recommendations.
In response to the suggestion that a meeting be held to further discuss the impact of the current Strategy and the way forward, it was highlighted that a meeting comprising the Children’s Champions, officers and representatives from NHS Highland and the voluntary sector was scheduled to take place on 17 August 2010.
i. NOTED progress on the 2005-2010 Play Strategy;
ii. AGREED to recommend to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee
expenditure of up to £10,000 from the play development budget to meet
the costs of third sector partner(s) to consult with stakeholders, young
people and families and to evaluate the impact of the 2005-10 Play
Strategy on the future of play in Highland and thereafter to review the
aspirations with Council Services and partners to determine those that
could be met within existing resources;
iii. AGREED that a report be submitted to a future meeting of the Joint
Committee outlining the views and making recommendations for future
iv. NOTED that a meeting to discuss play would take place on 17 August
2010, comprising the Children’s Champions, officers and representatives
from NHS Highland and the voluntary sector.
5. Fostering and Adoption Services to Looked After Children in
Report No CYP-24-10 by Jonathan King, Head of Children’s Services presented an overview of the Fostering and Adoption Service provided by the Council to broaden Members’ understanding of the wider context of accommodated Looked After Children.
The Fostering and Adoption Service formed part of the Council's Social Work Service and was responsible for the recruitment, assessment, supervision, support, review and training of foster carers and prospective adopters. In addition, the Service worked with adopters post-adoption and provided search and counselling services to adults affected by adoption.
There was a national shortage of foster carers and it was an ongoing challenge to replace those who stopped fostering due to retiral, getting a job or a change in health or family circumstances. Foster carers in Scotland were traditionally older although the age profile was gradually lowering and carers were going on to get jobs in fields where they could use their skills and experience.
One important aspect of the Service was to plan ahead so that if, for example, a child had special needs, information could be prepared for prospective carers and services put in place to support the child. Highland was one of the first authorities to take a multi-agency approach to fostering and adoption support at an early stage and that had had a positive impact.
The Service played a major role in securing positive outcomes for Looked After Children. Most children who came into foster care returned home but a small number went on to be adopted. Although the number of Looked After Children had reduced in recent years, those requiring a family placement often posed significant challenges because of their needs and Highland had been successful in developing quality services which, although under continuous pressure, meant that the needs of Highland children could generally be met locally.
In response to questions it was explained that:-
- a range of steps had been taken to advise carers on how to deal with the issue of birth parents searching for their children on social networking websites such as Facebook. In particular, the Council's Education, Culture and Sport Service had been carrying out training for carers and staff on Internet Safety. Because there was a policy of placing children within Highland, there were likely to be occasions when children met their families and a framework was in place to help carers and children prepare for that. Where children had siblings, contact was maintained as much as possible;
- whether it was a better outcome to be adopted depended on individual circumstances and whether a child could return home safely. The policy of the Council was that children were best placed in their own community with their family, however, if there was a history of repeated abuse and neglect then difficult decisions had to be made. In those cases, outcomes were better for the children if they were adopted at an early age;
- the breakdown of a foster placement was an extremely traumatic event for a child and it was important that the assessment criteria for potential carers remained stringent to reduce the likelihood of such an occurrence;
- in relation to potential carers being put off by public perception of the strict selection process, foster carers talking positively about their experiences had been a successful method of recruiting; and
- new legislation meant that the process by which adoption was achieved had changed and the Fostering and Adoption Service, with support from Legal Services, was working with families and prospective adopters during the transition to the new systems.
During further discussion, the following comments were made:-
- the significant challenges involved in caring for children who had been abused and neglected were recognised;
- adoption was a huge commitment which continued beyond childhood;
- it was important that the E-Safety website which had been developed by the Council’s Education, Culture and Sport Service was promoted as widely as possible and it was suggested that an electronic link to the website be sent to Joint Committee Members and Advisers;
- carrying out an analysis of those who had dropped out of the assessment and preparation phases might identify issues within the process that were putting potential carers off;
- it was understandable that the threat of unfounded allegations remained the main reason why applicants did not proceed;
- information was sought on the number of foster placements Looked After Children had throughout their childhood and the reasons for placement breakdown;
- support was expressed for the proposal that the JCCYP should have strategic responsibility for Fostering and Adoption in the future; and
- the Fostering and Adoption Service had been rated as “excellent” on all quality indicators during the recent Care Commission inspection and Members commended all those involved.
i. NOTED the report; and
ii. AGREED that an electronic link to the Highland E-Safety website be
provided to Joint Committee Members and Advisers.
6. For Highland’s Children 3 (FHC3) Action Plan – Children affected by
Report No CYP-25-10 by Marlyn Campbell, Development Officer (Disability) summarised the Improvement Objectives of FHC3, and the Key Actions required to achieve them in 2010/11, in relation to the needs of children and young people affected by disability.
The Action Plan was an improvement on previous versions in that it was more measurable, however, it was still aspirational and it was hoped that, in the future, the needs of children with disability would be included in every aspect of the Children’s Plan. There were six Improvement Objectives regarding disability which related to accessible services; assessment of additional support needs; access to specialist assessment; training and development of staff; information, advice, advocacy and training for families; and transitions planning and management. The Key Actions in respect of each Improvement Objective were summarised and it was emphasised that a collaborative approach by services would be required to achieve them.
In response to a question it was explained that, following approval of the Action Plan by the Committee, performance measures would be identified to evidence progress. The intention was that these would be incorporated into a “dashboard” document which would show, at a glance, whether things were improving, deteriorating or remaining constant but which would also contain electronic links to the source data on the FHC3 website. In addition, regular monitoring reports would be presented to the Joint Committee which would highlight achievements and where actions had been completed. An Action Plan would be produced by every FHC3 Strategy Group and the same procedure would be followed for each one.
With regard to the cumulative impact of disability on a child or family, Members were informed that the implementation of GIRFEC had had a positive effect in that health and education services were responding at an earlier stage. In addition, the Highland Carers Strategy and the Carers Information Strategy were key in ensuring that this was addressed.
During discussion, the following comments were made:-
- if the Action Plan could be delivered, services for children and families affected by disability would be exactly right;
- the Council was currently exploring the possibility of delivering Community Learning and Leisure Services through an ALO and it was therefore essential that there was collaborative working to ensure that key actions in relation to youth work were incorporated into any future Service Level Agreement;
- in relation to additional support needs, it was important to assess the potential knock-on effects of budget savings;
- information was sought on Self Directed Support and The Pines; and
- with regard to the provision of flexible respite services to respond to individual needs, it would be challenging to meet any new needs identified given the current budgetary pressures.
AGREED the actions outlined in the report.
7. FHC3 Action Plan – Pupil Support and Inclusion
Report No CYP-26-10 by Bernadette Cairns, Senior Manager (Additional Support Needs) introduced and sought approval of the updated Action Plan for Pupil Support and Inclusion.
The Action Plan, which was maintained by the Integrated Children’s Services Extended Additional Support Needs Team, set out a range of actions, in the context of GIRFEC, which would strengthen provision within both universal and specialist services and ensure that resources were targeted effectively and proportionately to improve outcomes for children and young people.
In response to a question it was again explained that, following approval of the Action Plan, performance measures would be identified to evidence progress. If those measures began to show that the management structure was a factor in outcomes not being achieved then that would be an issue for Members.
During discussion, it was suggested that complaints be cross-checked against the Action Plan to highlight any problem areas. In relation to future reporting, narrative was required in addition to the performance results so that Members had a clear understanding of the position.
APPROVED the Action Plan for Pupil Support and Inclusion.
8. Future Business of Joint Committee on Children and Young People
Report No CYP-27-10 by Jonathan King, Head of Children’s Services set out a proposed list of reports to be considered at future meetings of the Joint Committee on Children and Young People.
Further to the FHC3 Action Plans which had been considered today, the Head of Children’s Services advised that Action Plans in relation to Homelessness; Gypsy Travellers; Sensory Need; Through Care and Aftercare; and Looked After Children would be presented to the Joint Committee on 1 October 2010. A number of amendments to the scheduling of reports were also proposed.
NOTED the list of reports, including the proposed amendments to the schedule, and AGREED, in addition to the reports requested during discussion of earlier items, that reports be presented to future meetings of the JCCYP on:-
i. Kinship Care; and
ii. Education Outcomes for Looked After Children
9. Date of Next Meeting
NOTED that the next meeting of the Joint Committee would be held on 1 October 2010 at 2.15 pm in the Council Chamber, Highland Council Headquarters, Inverness
The meeting ended at 12.35 pm.