A group of local government experts will visit Lancashire this summer to assess how quickly final decisions are made about the futures of children in care.
Lancashire County Council has invited the so-called “peer review” as part of a plan to improve its children’s services.
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The regulator OFSTED made a series of recommendations to the council when it carried out an inspection last June. One of them suggested that County Hall should “rigorously monitor” its plans to make permanent arrangements for individual children in order to avoid “drift and delay”.
“If a child comes into our care, we would be looking to see if they could go back home again – so in that situation, ‘permanence’ would mean returning [them] to their birth family,” Sally Allen, acting director of children’s social care, told a meeting of the authority’s children’s services scrutiny committee.
“[But] where a child comes into our care and they can’t return home, we have to ask whether they should be living with another family [member], placed in long-term fostering or placed for adoption.”
Members heard that OFSTED is likely to take a keen interest in the council’s performance in securing permanent places for looked after children when inspectors next pay a visit. The peer review team will produce its own report on the subject in the meantime.
Lancashire County Council’s children’s services were lifted out of an “inadequate” rating and judged as “requires improvement” at last year’s inspection. The OFSTED report noted a “much-needed injection of pace” in work taking place to improve the service, but warned that “inconsistent practice” remained in some areas.
The council has since created a “getting to good” plan which is also focusing on preventing children coming into care and developing the children’s services workforce.
But Sally Allen told the committee that she was being “realistic” about the rate of improvement needed so as not to overwhelm the staff who are key to delivering it.
“We [must have] some perspective about how much work is involved – and some priority order about the work we need to do.
“We have…staff who are trying to deliver a service at the same time as we are doing all this work to improve the quality of [that service],” Sally Allen explained.
The authority created a list of 130 actions which it had to carry out following last year’s inspection. Members heard that 48 percent of them have so far been completed or are on target, 30 percent require more work and 21 percent are set to miss a completion date of this month.
WANTED: MALE ROLE MODELS
Children’s social work has become a female-dominated profession in Lancashire, councillors have heard.
“We’ve never looked at it [as a percentage], but I can tell you from an operational level, it is predominantly a female workforce,” Victoria Gent, Lancashire County Council’s child protection team manager told the authority’s health scrutiny committee.
“Undoubtedly, we need male social workers, as some of the teenage boys that come into the system really benefit from [them]. They’ll probably struggle with having male role models in their lives, so it makes sense.”
The meeting heard that work would be required with universities in order to bring about a change in the gender balance in the profession.