The Head of Early Help, Inclusion and Vulnerable Children was pleased to report that Aycliffe Secure Centre had retained its outstanding rating at the Ofsted inspection in November, a rating held since 2019. The inspection found warm and supportive relationships exist between the young people and staff and extremely effective partnership working takes place within the Centre. The inspectors commented that managers dealt with the challenges of the pandemic diligently and effectively which ensured the care, wellbeing and safety of the young people had not been compromised. The Head of Early Help, Inclusion and Vulnerable Children informed the Panel that a press release had been issued which also included information on the plans for the new transition unit at the Centre which had benefited from DfE funding.
The Head of Children’s Social Care updated the Panel on the good Ofsted outcomes for Coxhoe, Framwellgate Moor and High Etherley children’s homes. Feedback from inspectors acknowledged the high quality relationships between staff and young people and, in particular, the inspectors commented on the quality of the rooms which had been designed by the young people.
The Panel heard that following a recent recruitment drive, several new managers had been appointed and further developments in the pipeline include new deputy manager roles within each home. Further information on these developments will be presented to the Panel in the future.
The Chair congratulated all those involved.
Councillor Gunn remarked on the excellent work carried out at Aycliffe Centre in extremely challenging times. Referring to the transition unit, she commented that she was looking forward to seeing this project progress and she referred to the amount of work that had been carried out in order to secure DfE funding. The Head of Early Help, Inclusion and Vulnerable Children acknowledged that this had been a complicated piece of work which began in 2019 and he agreed it was pleasing to see that a funding package is now in place. He thanked the previous and present Portfolio Holders for Children and Young People for their support.
Councillor Gunn commented that she was pleased that the recent staff recruitment drive had been successful and she asked if further information was available on the impact of the fostering recruitment campaign and whether the service had given consideration to a television marketing campaign. The Head of Children’s Social Care informed the Panel that a television advert for Durham’s Fostering Service was being produced and it was expected to be aired for two weeks, one week in February and one week in May. In another new initiative, the display boards in the grounds of County Hall will be utilised to support the fostering campaign. Feedback on the impact of these initiatives will be shared with the Panel in due course.
The Head of Children’s Social Care was pleased to report that this year will see the return of the annual Foster Carer Awards ceremony and the event, which Members will be invited to, is planned for early March.
The Head of Children’s Social Care referred to the increasing digital presence via social media platforms and Members were provided with marketing materials which support specific fostering campaigns including children with disabilities and special needs, teenagers, unaccompanied asylum seeking young people and larger sibling groups.
In response to a question from Councillor Hunt as to whether Aycliffe Centre had returned to pre-Covid levels, the Head of Early Help, Inclusion and Vulnerable Children explained that staffing issues were being carefully monitored in light of the new COVID-19 variant and plans were being developed to review the reopening of the fifth home in March.
Councillor Varty spoke of how she was pleased to be part of the Fostering Panel which had given her the opportunity to witness the fantastic work carried out by foster carers and officers. The Chair echoed Councillor Varty’s comments on the valuable work and congratulated all those involved in the work.