The Committee will receive an update on the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Children’s Services and Education.
Mr Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services
Mrs Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills
Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director for Children’s Services
Mr Richard Nash, Service Director, Children’s Services
Mr Simon James, Service Director, Education
The Chairman welcomed Mr Mark Shaw, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services; Mrs Anita Cranmer, Cabinet Member for Education and Skills; Mr Tolis Vouyioukas, Corporate Director for Children’s Services; Mr Richard Nash, Service Director, Children’s Social Care and Mr Simon James, Service Director for Education to the meeting. Mr Vouyioukas explained that the report contained two sections; Children’s Social Care and Education. Mr Vouyioukas acknowledged that it had been an incredibly busy time for everyone in the Directorate and schools and thanked staff and colleagues for their hard work.
Mr Nash reported that the Service had focussed on meeting the needs of vulnerable children and young people and had adopted a flexible approach in the context of Covid-19. The number of physical contacts with children, young people and their families had increased since the last meeting of the Committee. The Service had introduced new practice standards to see as many children as possible, face to face, and it was evident, due to the increased complexity of case work, that Covid-19 had had an impact on vulnerable families. There had been some positive outcomes such as the quality of the inter-agency work and the use of technology which had improved contact with some children. Professional contribution to meetings had also improved.
The following points were raised and discussed by members of the committee.
- In response to a request on the number of children percentage-wise who had returned to school and for information on the work being carried out to provide mental health resilience for children and families; Mr Nash advised that there had been a positive response to children returning to school and that children being away from school had underlined the importance of attending school. Mental health resilience was not a new area of work but Mr Nash agreed that the impact of Covid-19 would increase the workload and that the relationship with the mental health service remained key to ensure a timely response.
- Reference was made to paragraph 1.5 which stated that “August 2020 saw a greater proportion of individuals self-referring into the service, which is a significant shift compared to previous trends”. Mr Nash explained that it was hard to provide an exact number/comparison but it had been notable that there had been successive days of requests for help which was unusual.
- In response to a question on whether staff had been impacted in Buckinghamshire due to being unable to obtain a Covid-19 test; Mr Nash advised that it had not been a significant resourcing issue from a Children’s Social Care perspective; it had been a national issue and the service was working closely with public health colleagues.
- Paragraph 1.4 referred to an increase in the number of referrals for families which had not previously been known to the service. A member asked how many referrals and the scale of issues of the new referrals. Mr Nash stated that the evidence was two-fold; the month by month comparison with last year showed the number of referrals had increased, possibly due to Covid-19. The referral numbers fluctuated week on week but Mr Nash confirmed that workloads had increased due to the complexity of new referrals.
- Concern was expressed over the increased and difficult workload for staff and how they were being supported. Mr Shaw advised that he was aware of the additional burden on staff; managers were working closely with their staff and 88% felt well supported in a recent staff survey. Mr Shaw thanked staff and colleagues for their hard work ensuring children and young people were safe in Buckinghamshire and added that statutory deadlines were being met.
- Following a request for information on whether schools had raised any issues with the children returning to school and the programmes that would be delivered to support children’s mental health; Mr James advised that, as an example of collaborative practice between schools and the local authority, a programme had been commissioned to provide additional mental health support to all children in schools. The schools were also working with the Educational Psychology team and the rest of the targeted schools support team to focus on areas such as anxiety, depression and self-harm. Mr James also highlighted the partnership work with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and the NHS Trust.
- Concern was raised that not all children were willing to discuss mental health issues. Mr James advised that there were a number of youth forums and that children worked well when engaging with other children and often felt more comfortable speaking with their peers rather than professionals. The Service was also working closely with schools, many of which had a link person or key worker who often provided the best information. Mr James stated he had been impressed with the way schools had managed the return to school process and feedback had shown that children were happy to be back in school. There was good, frequent communication between the senior leadership team and representatives from the head teachers as they met at least twice a week.
- A member raised the issue of youths being targeted by county lines and the potential of being subject to abuse and asked whether more was being done to protect young people. Mr Nash stated that an exploitation hub worked with other agencies to identify children early who were at risk.
RESOLVED: The Select Committee NOTED the following recommendations:
(a) The way in which Children’s Social Care had continued to respond and adapt its approach to service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, and
(b) The work completed by the Directorate in supporting the full return to school from September 2020.