Agenda item

Placement Commissioning Strategy (Children)


That the Joint Committee support the future commissioning intentions as detailed in the Placement Commissioning Strategy to be submitted to Welsh Government.


            The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) presented the Placement Commissioning Strategy which set out the Council’s ambitions and plans to support looked after children locally with parents and families being given support to provide safe loving homes in Flintshire.  Some children would require foster care and residential care and if they could be kept in Flintshire it would enable them to sustain their friendships, keep their schools placements, friends and family connections.  It was also easier for the authority’s officers to maintain that support and build trust if they remained within Flintshire and resulted in better outcomes.  However, for some children they would need to move away from Flintshire for their own safety and well-being.  


            The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) provided detailed information on “the Mockingbird” approach to fostering and outlined how the three hubs grouped foster carers together in clusters to support each other.  He outlined the issues around recruitment of foster carers and that the authority was reliant on commercial independent fostering agencies.  These commercial agencies recruited their own foster carers and the authority had to buy the placements from them at a much higher cost.  He recommended that Members visited Arosfa, a residential home run by Action for Children, which provided respite care for children with disabilities and outlined the support provided there.  At present this was the only in-house residential provision for residential care and the Council was totally reliant on the Independent Sector.  He referred to the Independent Sector placements within Flintshire which had worked well with positive outcomes.  He provided an overview of the programme for developing residential care homes with two being developed in Mold. 


The Strategy set out the Council’s ambition over the next three years which aligned with Welsh Government’s (WG) ambition to eliminate profit from children’s social care.  Information was provided on the funding, template and partnership working and the number of foster carers and placements that would be required to achieve this.


In response to a question from Councillor Gina Maddison on why people chose the Independent Agencies rather than the Council, the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed that these Agencies charged the authority more and paid foster carers more money.   All local authorities in Wales were working together to develop a local authority brand and he provided detailed information on the work that was being undertaken.


            In response to a question from the Chair about carers who chose to care for sibling groups, the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed that there were a range of initiatives as the Council was a foster friendly employer and these were explained together with other schemes available to support sibling groups. 


            In response to a question from Councillor Gladys Healey on the age limit for foster carers, the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed there was no limit, and the process was fully inclusive, as it was about the best fit for the child.


            In response to a question from Councillor Andy Hughes on the differences were between the processes for private providers and the Council, the Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed the assessments were the same.  There were different thresholds especially with regards to skills and resilience, where applicants were deemed unsuitable by the authority but were accepted by the Independent Agencies but added that that there were excellent carers in the Independent Fostering Agencies.  The Independent Fostering Agencies were sometimes quicker processing applications, but it was felt there were disadvantages to that as we needed to ensure that the foster carers were fully prepared.  He provided information on the timescale and panel processes.


            Councillor Dave Mackie referred to the Foster Care Panel which he was a member of and said the foster carers were seen before the six-month period.  It was dependant on the information provided by the foster carers and their availability for panel, with some people getting through quite quickly.


            The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education, Welsh Language, Culture and Leisure commented that Officers in Social Services were working in very difficult circumstances as decisions had to be made to remove children from their families.  These children had experienced adverse childhood trauma and the Council had to support them.   He was pleased that WG had made a commitment to make children’s social care non-profitmaking.


            Councillor Andrew Parkhurst commented on the standard of foster carers at Independent Fostering Agencies and whether the outcomes for foster children were measured in-house verses private. The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) explained that in Wales there was an approved framework that the Council had to use to buy placements.  This was managed by the Children’s Commissioning Consortium Cymru (CCCC) which all providers had to be registered with.  Quality assurance was undertaken to enable registration with checks on their processes and finances managed by the CCCC.  If the council were unable to offer a place for a child, then the information would be uploaded on to the system for Independent Providers to offer a place.  The Council then had to carry out its own due diligence and had developed its own framework to ensure the placement was safe and appropriate and were registered with Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW).

Councillor Parkhurst raised concerns around whether foster carers were vetted to ensure they were up to the required standard.  The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed that the profile of the young person would be looked at with quality assurance processes carried out to see if that foster carer was the best fit for the child.   Independent Reviewing Officers, as part of their roles, reviewed outcomes for each child and monitored whether their needs were being met within the first 28 days of placement.  In addition, the social workers visited every 6 weeks, and the foster carers were part of the review and held to account for the care they were providing.


            Councillor Tina Claydon commented that she had visited Ty Neath which was excellent and asked if there were plans to build more of these units in the future.  The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) provided information on what was hoped to be achieved at Ty Neath, the property next to Ty Neath and another property recently submitted to Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW).  A bid had been made to WG to carry out more refurbishments and he provided an overview of the application process, assessment of locations and timeframes involved.


            Councillor Andy Hughes commented that bringing more services back in house was key and asked for information on current social worker staffing levels.  The Senior Manager (Children and Workforce) confirmed that the recruitment and retention of children’s social workers was a significant challenge and provided information on the national gaps in social care across Wales and across the Country.   The Programme growing and developing in house staff was continuing together with a successful recruitment programme with agency staff used in the short term as there were challenges attracting Level 3 Social Workers.  The Chief Officer (Social Services) reported that there was a national shortage of social workers and statutory frontline childcare work which was very challenging, with recruitment and retention after 5 years qualified a real issue for all authorities.  The authority was looking at pay, better use of agency social workers and working with partners and neighbouring authorities.  He asked members for assistance in promoting the service to ensure the Council’s reputation remained as positive as possible.


            The Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Education, Welsh Language, Culture and Leisure reported that the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) were working to get national pay scales across Wales which would assist in the recruitment and retention challenges.  He outlined the work Cabinet was undertaking with senior officers around this area. 


The recommendation, as outlined within the report, was moved and seconded by Councillor Carolyn Preece and Councillor Gladys Healey.




That the Joint Committee support the future commissioning intentions as detailed in the Placement Commissioning Strategy to be submitted to Welsh Government.

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