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This summary provides an overview of key issues and themes that are covered in more detail throughout the rest of the document.
In March 2020, there were 364 children and young people in care. These children are described as being ‘in care’ and are the statutory responsibility of the local authority that becomes, in effect, their ‘corporate parent’. As a ‘corporate parent’, our role is to ensure there are sufficient numbers, types and quality of homes and accommodation available to ensure children’s safety, welfare and emotional/physical wellbeing.
The number of children in care in Warrington had risen sharply between 2014 and 2018, which presented the authority with a number of challenges. In March 2018 the number of children in care was 403, this reduced to 385 in 2019 and to 364 in 2020. The decrease in our Children in Care numbers over the last 2 years by 39 is positive and goes against the trend being seen in other local authorities where the Children in Care numbers are increasing. Official figures show there are now 78,150 children in care in England, up from 75,370 in 2018 and almost 20,000 more than in 2009 when 60,900 children were looked after.
Whilst in the main the age profile and reasons for being in care correlate with those of other Local Authorities, the ‘rate’ of children in care in Warrington compared to the population as a whole remains higher than our statistical neighbours.
Despite numbers of Children in Care decreasing the impact and demand on sufficiency remains significant. There is increased competition for placements in the residential sector as the needs of children become more complex, alongside the wider (regional and national) challenges in the recruitment of foster carers. This can decrease the choices professionals and children have in where they live, and create difficulties in matching children to a placement, which in turn can lead to further problems of placement instability.
Warrington is not alone in having to care for children who have very complex (often mental health) needs and particularly challenging behaviour. These children are particularly vulnerable to sexual and criminal exploitation. They usually have a high number of agencies involved in their care planning arrangements, and as such have complex care arrangements where their needs can only be met by solo or therapeutic placements. Unfortunately, these placements incur considerable costs. Whilst it remains a small number we have in the last 12 months continued to see several placements costing £7.5k - £10k per week with independent residential providers. Some of these children are subject to ‘Deprivation of Liberty’ requiring a high level of support and surveillance. These are commonly semi secure and short term assessment placements.
In order to help counter the rise in admissions and address budgetary pressures, the Families and Wellbeing directorate established an Edge of Care service in July 2016 targeting families with children and young people at risk of coming into care and putting in place additional support to enable families to sustain the changes required for them to keep their children safe. This service has contributed to our reduction in our Child in Care numbers.
We continue to be a partner in the North West collaborative approach to the contracting of independent residential and fostering placements for children in care and care leavers via Placements North West.
We, like other authorities continue to place more children outside the collaborative contract because the search process is widening and with a rise in complexity more single provider arrangements are emerging. There continues to be strong and positive networking between Authorities in relation to sector management, monitoring and development.
Warrington’s central geographical position in the North West means it still benefits from a good quality and a range of nearby private/independent fostering and residential services for children in care and this supports our ambition and commitment for our children to stay local. According to the latest available data from March 2020, over 96 children are in private provision which is 26% of all the Children in Care; 73 of these 96 children are within 20 miles of their home (76%). The majority (97%) of these placements, where an Ofsted rating is provided, are good or outstanding.
[Within 20 miles], an additional 14 young people are in placements not covered by children’s home regulations, including 11 in semi-independent living accommodation.
With increasing children in care numbers across the North West, accommodation options within Warrington and neighbouring boroughs continue to face challenges when meeting the needs of our cared for children. Placement stability for children having three or more placements a year had been a concern for Warrington in 2017/18, with data reporting that 14% of children in care had three or more placements within the year. However, we have seen improvements in this area and short-term stability has improved over the past two years and now stands at 9.3% (34) children in care having had three or more placements during the year, below the England figure of 10%.
Warrington had traditionally performed well against comparators in terms of children who stay in the same placement for two or more years. In 2018 it was noted that the picture was worsening with 65% of children in the longer-term cohort staying in the same placement for two years or more. However, there have been improvements over the past two years with 66.7% of children now in the same placement for over 2 years, which presents an improving picture of long term stability.
Whilst improvements in local options, practice and outcomes are positive, there is always work to do and a number of key areas of development are detailed below:
Developing our in-house fostering provision is a continuing significant priority. For 2020/21, the aim is to recruit and retain more carers with a specific focus on the skills of carers to manage more adolescents, complex behaviour and enable children to feel safe, settled and attached. In order to do this we will be reviewing our fostering payment scheme, implementing the Mockingbird model of fostering, looking at new ways to support children with a disability and how we can ensure all children have a continued right to a family life. We will continue to make steps to increase the number of children and young people who will be able to be placed with Warrington foster carers. However, this continues to be very challenging and we will still need to utilise local independent fostering and residential agencies as part of our sufficiency offer.
Mockingbird is an extended family model which was conceived in Washington State USA in 2004 by The Mockingbird Society. The aim was to have a positive impact on the public perception of children and young people who were fostered, and to work with fostering families and child placing agencies to improve outcomes for children and fostering households. The Mockingbird family model was introduced to the UK in 2015- 2016 and Warrington have been successful in a DfE bid to implement the project.
In 2017 & 2018 we saw a decline in our overall placement stability. This was a worry. In some areas our data was much lower than our statistical neighbours, North West and England average. We wanted a higher percentage of our children to experience long-term placement stability and placed an emphasis to maintain a good level of performance in this area. This has paid dividends and performance in this area is now improved. This has been achieved through, regular assessment and care planning meetings, the support of our fostering service, our Families First team working with children (and their foster carers) on the ‘edge of residential’ care and keeping children at the centre of everything we do.
This is a key strategic outcome of the Children and Young People’s Plan 2019-22 and is associated with the wider programme of transformation associated with the council’s successful application to join the Department of Education’s (DfE) Strengthening Families, Protecting Children Programme and roll out the No Wrong Door model. In the context of increasingly expensive and limited choice of external (private) residential care placements, there is a renewed commitment to retaining some of the council’s internal residential provision for children in care. This supports children in care to remain close to their home, community and school. It is also linked with the council being more efficient. The redesign will increase the bed capacity of the council’s residential provision. The council will have at least nine beds for mainstream provision (including No Wrong Door Hub), this could increase to 12 with the addition of a further three-bedded home in the future. This compares to the beginning of the residential redesign process, when there were eight beds available in the council’s internal residential provision. In total, the number of beds proposed in all types of residential provision could increase from 14 to 21, which would mean more children in care would live locally and within our own resources.
The council are taking part in the DfE’s Strengthening Families Protecting Children Programme, following its successful application. It will receive an estimated £2.7 million in funding over two years from the DfE to support the implementation of the No Wrong Door model in Warrington. The No Wrong Door model is an innovative approach to edge of care provision first developed by North Yorkshire County Council. The model supports adolescents who are in or on the edge of care. It integrates residential care, foster care, speech and language support, mental health services and the police into a single hub that is based in a residential home.
At March 2020, the provisional data shows that the largest age group (45.6%) of children in care are aged 10-15 years; higher than our comparators at 40% (England and North West averages). 20.3% are aged 16 years and over, compared to 18% in the North West and 24% in England. The majority of these children are unable to return home to their families and therefore we must ensure that we have sufficient accommodation to meet their needs as they transition to and move into adulthood.
The number of children placed in supported accommodation or in independent living placements is similar to the 2018 figure with only an increase of 2 placements taking the number from 23 to 25. However, our costs for these placements has increased by 20%, which is impacting on our overall spend. [LH2]
Ofsted have set clear expectations about what constitutes a Supported Accommodation. This type of provision is usually ‘unregulated’ and although this is allowed in law, it should be used as a stepping stone to independence, and only ever when it is in a child’s best interests. This provision is used when children (usually over the age of 16) need support to live independently, rather than needing full-time care. As part of our Residential Redesign we intend to open two Supported Accommodation (2 x 2 bed) provisions. We also want to link in with housing providers in the independent sector to ensure that children who are transitioning to adulthood have access to good quality housing and are properly supported to maintain their own tenancy.
Cost and Funding (withstanding the impact of Covid-19): the current and predicted future financial position across local government means there continues to be 3 substantive challenges: