Agenda item

Improving the in-house offer for out of County Placements for Children


(a)     That the draft Support and Placement Strategy 2019-2022 be endorsed; and


(b)     That a letter be written, on behalf of the Committee, to the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services outlining the Committee’s concerns around the need for adequate resources to meet the challenges of Out of County placements.


            The Chief Officer (Social Services) introduced the report explaining that out of county placements was one of the most dominant issues for all Local Authorities across the country.  He explained locating good quality looked after support in Flintshire was a real issue and a challenge for the Council with insufficient resources available to meet the statutory demand. The Council was fully supportive but it was the actual money which came into the Council that was the real issue.  He referred Members to page 37 of the report which outlined the costs of placement and explained how this impacted on budgets within Social Services.  There was a lot of work being carried out within the portfolio, in Flintshire, the North Wales Region and wider to tackle these challenges.


            The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) added this was a national challenge with no single answer with a number of strands of work required to enable different solutions and offers to be provided to an increasing number of children with complex needs. He provided examples of how support was provided in the home, to family members, fostering and residential care.  The report outlined the range of initiatives that were required to re-shape the offer provided to children and families with early support a priority to enable families to stay together, even if in some cases that was not always possible.  He then referred Members page 12 of the report and provided information on the work being undertaken to support the three core ambitions:-


·         To safely reduce the number of children who need to be looked after

·         To support looked after children in local high quality placements

·         To improve outcomes for looked after children.


            Councillor Mackie sought clarification at 1.10 in the report on the term side skill. He also referred to the number of 16 year olds with lack of education or education refusers and said when a young person stopped being in education this added pressure on the foster carers and then put a strain on the whole system.  He felt that there should be a scheme introduced for these young people which would provide something for them to do if not in education which would give them hope for the future.


            The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) provided a response on how side skilling employees would work with youth workers, for example, who were well placed to develop a relationship and gain trust with these young people early and identify when things deteriorate.   These officers were already part of Flintshire’s workforce, working with children but side skilling enabled them to identify and offer therapeutic support and signpost children when needed.  This would be in addition to their existing role.  He agreed with Councillor Mackie’s comments on young people disengaging with education and said that working with schools to minimise exclusions was key but the issues were wide ranging.


            The Senior Manager (Inclusion and Progression) reported that there were a number of children at Year 10 who were disengaging from education. Officers were looking at a range of schemes to connect with these young people and she provided an example of a group of young people working with a plumber to encourage them back into training and education.


            The Chair asked if mindfulness and anger management could be accessed by these young people simply and easily.  The Senior Manager (Inclusion and Progression) responded saying that there were a number of officers trained to deliver mindfulness who visit schools to train staff or offer courses to young people but she was unaware if that was offered through the health service.  Anger Management training had been offered in partnership with GwE in order to assist teachers in de-escalating situations in schools.


            Councillor Hinds referred to page 37 of the report with the figures increasing from £3m to £5m within 3 years and asked the following questions:-


·         Where there insufficient placements in county to meet demand

·         Are the individual’s needs more complex

·         Had the funding from Welsh Government reduced


She also asked what Members could do to assist officers.


            The Chief Officer answered yes to all three questions. The actual number of individuals had increased over the last three years but Flintshire was still below average in Wales with the last figures at 247, historically the figures were between 180 and 200.  The reasons why was complex with austerity and universal credit being factors together with a large number of adoptions which had broken down. Costs of placements had increased and the Council was having to compete to get placements which was why Flintshire was working to increase the supply of care through foster carers and with care and repair.  There had been some support from Welsh Government (WG) but not sufficient for the demand being faced.  Members support in raising awareness of the pressures faced by the Council with out of county placements would be much appreciated.

            Councillor Hinds proposed that a letter be written to the WG Minister for Health and Social Services outlining the Committee’s concerns around the need for adequate resources to meet the challenges of Out of County placements.  This proposal was seconded and supported by the Committee.


            Councillor Geoff Collett referred to the increase since 2016 of 50% in the cost of providing care and felt this was spiralling out of control and asked if it was predicted that costs would continue to rise.  Also he referred to previous schemes such as Sure Start and Women’s Refuges and wondered by losing these schemes were more children being placed into care because of this.


            In response to the first question the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) clarified when the term out of county was used it included a range of services including children in residential care in Flintshire.  Out of county meant services being bought outside of the Council’s provision.    He could not guarantee that this figures would not continue to increase.  The Chief Officer (Social Services) said there were still some schemes such as Flying Start which were successful and by retaining these services provided the Council with an advantage over other authorities.  Having good services for communities under pressure and targeting families at risk do work and key to that was reducing children on the edge of care coming into care.


            Mr David Hytch referred to the report and said there was a high correlation between looked after children and additional learning needs and it had always been thought mainstream school was the best place for them if they could manage and there was the level of support in that school. He referred to the Pupil Referral Unit and sought assurance that schools across Flintshire were doing everything they could to retain pupils in mainstream schools and asked how much support was being provided to schools


            In response the Senior Manager (Inclusion & Progression) confirmed the amount of outreach was limited at present but that staff had been able to identify appropriate strategies and ways of working which do work.  Advice and support was provided to schools and it had been the interpretation of that advice which had been successful.  There was also short term provision offered to secondary schools accessed via PRU for a number of sessions per week over a 12 week period. She referred to progress with Plas Derwen which would provide more resources and outreach.    The ability of schools to retain these children depends on the resources they had but schools could make requests to the Moderation Panel to get that addition resources to assist that child.  Encouraging schools to take up training and collaborate with each other was key.


            Councillor Kevin Hughes asked how closely Children’s Services worked with Wrexham, Denbighshire and Conwy Children’s Services and whether it was possible to share resources.  In response the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed Flintshire worked very closely with the region with specific projects such as the Multi-Disciplinary Team (a Wrexham and Flintshire collaboration) and that the Regional Market Position Statement looked at services that were needed locally, sub regional and regional. He provided examples to committee.  He added these were not pooling budgets but joint working.


            Councillor Gladys Healey referred to youth workers and asked how well were they trained and do they visit primary schools to speak to children before they reach secondary school.  In response the Chief Officer (Education & Youth) stated the age range supported by the youth workers was 11 to 25 years.  Flintshire had an extremely skilful and well qualified team who engaged with young people across a whole range of situations and interacted in a way teachers could not.  If a young person came to them for support if they could not help then they would sign post them to the help they needed.  She outlined the expertise of the team which was continually being developed and placed in schools building relationships with pupils and provided information on the positive affect this was having on the pupils and schools   She then referred to the question of teaching assistants and felt there was a risk that the learner became dependent on that individual and that ALN support could be provided by the teacher as well as teaching assistant.  She referred to the research by the Sutton Trust which concluded it was not beneficial to the child’s development.  Teachers were working extremely hard to improve literacy skills of their children.  The Senior Manager agreed saying schools had to be mindful of this situation and creating a dependency.   Teaching Assistants prove useful in lots of areas of the school but having specialist support for the child was key.


            The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education & Youth agreed fully and referred to his working life as a head teacher. The relationship between the child and the class room assistant could be complex and there was a need for the child to grow in independence as much as they could as they could be singled out as always being with an adult which did become an issue in secondary school.  It was fully acceptable for the classroom assistant to be engaged in other parts of the school provided they were available if that child needed assistance.


            Councillor Hinds asked when a child needed statementing support did the school budget cover the costs.   In response the Leader of the Council said that there was evidence from the end of year school balances suggesting that schools had sufficient resources for this.  The Senior Manager (Inclusion and Progression) added the process of statementing was to identify significant areas of need and invariably there would be additional resources attached to that individual which the statement would draw upon.  All schools in Flintshire were able to put forward a case to Moderation Panel which would then allocate additional resources.   School budgets are also generated using a formula which includes information on the level of special educational needs across the school to ensure an appropriate level of funding is available to support pupil needs.


            Councillor David Williams was mindful of the performance and financial constraints on schools and asked were any of our schools able to modify their curriculum to keep these children in their school, with a curriculum for individuals or small groups of people.  In response the Chief Officer (Education & Youth) confirmed that they could and it was the Head Teacher’s responsibility to look at the pupils needs within their schools and there was some creative work being carried out to meet the needs of each child.  The introduction of the new curriculum was designed around the core principles but schools had greater autonomy to develop and meet the needs of their particular school. There was greater flexibility within the schools now.  The Senior Manager added pupils had access to a range of courses and there was scope to develop a package to support individuals within the schools




(a)     That the draft Support and Placement Strategy 2019-2022 be endorsed; and


(b)     That a letter be written, on behalf of the Committee, to the Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services outlining the Committee’s concerns around the need for adequate resources to meet the challenges of Out of County placements.


Supporting documents: