Lindsey Herring, Project Manager, presented the new Sufficiency and Commissioning Strategy for children looked after and care leavers.
The Panel received a report and presentation which outlined the strategic approach to securing sufficient accommodation (for copy of report and presentation see file of minutes).
The Panel noted the increased demand on councils to meet their sufficiency duty was highlighted in the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care. The Project Manager explained that the increasing number of children in care, including older teenagers and unaccompanied asylum seeking young people posed additional challenges for the service and had led to an increase in placement moves and the use of external residential provision.
The Project Manager outlined the strategy’s six overarching objectives which include increasing the number of in-house foster carers and adopters, developing the children’s home and accommodation offer, improving the offer for unaccompanied asylum seeking young people (UASCs) and the short breaks offer for disabled children and their families. The report provided details of the work undertaken in collaboration with Investing in Children to ensure the young people play a role in shaping the services which have a direct impact upon them.
Referring to the objective to reduce the waiting times for UASCs, the Panel heard that Durham had received a larger proportion of unaccompanied asylum seeking young people than neighbouring authorities which had led to delays in the initial stages, however, the situation had resolved and there was confidence that Durham is well placed to receive these young people in a timely manner in the future. The Panel commented on the lack of information provided in the report on kinship care and the Project Manager agreed to take the comment back to the service for more detail on this to be included in future reports.
In response to a question from the Panel on the number of young people currently in unregulated provision, the Project Manager replied that, at present, there are 6 young people under the age of 16 in unregulated provision and the length of time that a young person typically spends in this type of provision varies according to individual needs. The Panel heard that unregulated provision is subject to weekly review meetings to ensure regular management oversight of all unregulated placements. Recognising that there is an increasing number of young people who benefit from smaller settings, Durham is currently developing its offer in respect of smaller children’s homes and work is in progress to register two emergency children’s homes in the near future.
In response to a comment from a Member who raised concern that the report stated it is usual for young people to move at least once whilst in care, officers clarified that a number of young people are supported to return home and this requires adjustment on behalf of the young person and their family, which may not be successful initially. Moves such as these may impact the figures. A clear plan is in place in terms of action moving forward in this area and additional support is being developed for wrap-around care arrangements.
The Panel asked whether any befriending arrangements were in place to help to welcome unaccompanied asylum seeking young people (UASC). The Strategic Manager explained that work was underway to establish a dedicated team for UASC and she highlighted social inclusion opportunities through work with Investors in Children, the voluntary and community sector and access to Independent Visitors. In addition, the Mind of My Own app enables the young people to communicate with practitioners in their language, which is then translated. A Member pointed out that the culturally diverse nature of Universities may also provide social inclusion opportunities. Officers commented that further information on the services provided for UASC, including information on the number of UASC who had taken advantage of the Independent Visitor Service, could be provided at a future meeting.
That the report be noted.