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27 July 2023

Update from Chair of Audit and Risk Committee

An update from the Chairperson of Audit and Risk Committee (ARAC) was provided to the AfC Board from the committee held on 19 June 2023. Positive reports have been received from the external auditors, Crowe, and audit partners - South West London Audit Partnership (Richmond and Kingston) and the South West Audit Partnership (Windsor and Maidenhead). Ongoing savings for the financial year 2023/24 were noted.

Approval of annual report and accounts 2022/23

The AfC Board formally signed off the 2022-23: 

  • Annual Report and Statement of Action
  • Crowe’s Audit Findings report
  • Letter of Representation

Engagement with young people (video and verbal)

The AfC Board were informed that the young people representing the 9 groups/forums across the three boroughs met together.

A video was shown to the board members which had been compiled by representatives of the nine forums/groups which are young people led and where there is engagement - Kingston and Richmond Youth Council, Windsor and Maidenhead Youth Council, Windsor and Maidenhead Kickback, Mental Health Champion, Young Health Champion, the Esteem Group, Girls Forum, Children in Care Councils, Racism and Recruits Care for SEND. The video contents covered a range of issues that mean the most to the young people involved in these groups and cover the period May-July 2023 activity. 

Two of the Board members, Nikki Craig and Nathan Nagaiah, met with representatives from the nine groups/forums/councils (Children in Care Council and Youth Council) and received feedback from a group of young inspectors who visited two semi independent living accommodation for young people leaving care and unaccompanied asylum seeking children. 

They viewed the accommodation as though they were living there and provided valuable feedback ie what was the atmosphere like, what happens if somebody is having a hard time, do the carers working with the young person know/cook favourite foods, are there social evenings etc. One of the issues raised was around maintenance of the buildings and that the wait times for issues to be rectified was unacceptable. The young people have asked for the support of the AfC board members when the report is circulated amongst the three councils. 

The Board members were delighted to view the video and hear from the young people directly. The Board acknowledged the young people are confident in articulating activities they are engaged with. The Board noted how valuable the young people’s feedback is and will seek further opportunities to engage.

Social Care and Early Help Transformation

The government has set out proposed Social Care Reforms to improve how the national social care system seeks to support children and young people.

AfC has set up a transformation board to consider the six pillars (work areas) which are: 

  1. Family help
  2. Multi-agency safeguarding
  3. Family networks
  4. Care experience: a) Placements and b) Rights for care leavers
  5. Workforce
  6. Improving the system

Under each of the work areas, there will be project groups who will meet regularly and progress the transformation work and initiatives.

The AfC Board had a very useful and detailed discussion about this transformation programme, noting this will be a huge programme of change. The Board were provided with helpful and clear reports which outlined the workstreams and the complex work that will be undertaken. This programme of activity will require careful management over a sustained period of time and involve partnership work and clear communication with partners, multi agencies, children and young people, families and carers. 

Discussion on AfC Future Strategic Priorities and Business Plan

The AfC Board were updated on the work currently taking place on a 5 year business plan to cover the period 2024 - 2025. There was discussion around the use of key words and phrases and what they meant in the wider context: 

  • 'listening'- AfC being a listening organisation and that this could mean as an employer as well as an organisation; dynamic, querying, forward looking, caring, being creative in how AfC works, focus on innovation, continue to do what we do really well ie; keeping children and young people safe; stability
  • sustainability - sustainable element to AfC’s work, financial sustainability
  • working with the three councils, reflecting values and priorities
  • what is at the core and the heart of AfC - young people, children 
  • Use of 'collaborative' instead of 'integrated' word
  • USP of AfC - innovative model, uniqueness comes through, narrative about what makes AfC different.  Important from a recruitment perspective, draw out what is special to be at AfC.

The Board discussed the draft AfC strategic priorities and had the opportunity to input their ideas for the next iteration. The Board fully understood and endorsed the strategic direction.  

Windsor and Maidenhead - Director of Children’s Services update

Key updates

  • No longer have SEND Written Statement of Action
  • System-wide children and young people plan - 2023-26 - launched across the borough
  • HRH The Princess of Wales visited the Windsor Family Hub and visited one of AfC’s families in their own home.
  • RBWM Market Place event held on 29/6/23 for new councillors and staff  - provided opportunities to showcase work, network, build connections and explore opportunities for joint working.
  • RBWM recruitment event - 26/6/23 
  • FUEL - summer programme for families living in RBWM who access free school meals launched for summer 2023
  • Written compliment received by a social worker in the Duty and Assessment Team from a grateful parent when her daughter received help and support at a time when it was needed most to a favourable outcome for the whole family.

Issues and concerns 

  • Recruitment and retention remains a significant challenge. New in post is a Recruitment Champion
  • Social care demand 
  • Contacts numbers increased by 6%
  • Referrals - increased by 14% - due to case complexities particularly in relation to the trio of vulnerabilities (co-existence of mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse), single assessments increased significantly. 
  • Initial child protection conferences - 21% increase
  • Children in care - 12% increase - partly due to Covid effects and also increase in UASC via the National Transfer Scheme.

Positive to report

  • Early Help wait times for families requiring early help support is continuing to reduce.
  • Intensive Family Support Team - now fully staffed
  • Overall performance continues to be good in a range of areas.

Richmond and Kingston - Director of Children’s Services update

Report focused on:

  • South West London project work: Early Careers Network; London Social Work for Children microsite - a platform for all local authorities in London to set out their offer to social workers and to advertise vacancies.
  • Responding to the Government published “Stable Homes Built on Love” strategy in response to the children’s social care review led by Josh Macallister.
  • AfC is seen as an organisation who can lead for groups of other local authorities and be involved to develop work practices.
  • Fostering inspection went well, given pressures across services - in all children’s services  - good outcome and recognition.

Chief Operating and Finance Officer Report

The COFO provided assurance and information on corporate and business service issues and the Board had the opportunity to comment and ask questions. The most significant executive concerns remain the increasing complexity of children's needs, the impact of inflation, availability of local placements and the ongoing challenges with recruitment and retention of experienced frontline staff. 

Board Assurance Framework

Two new risks have been added to the framework:

  • External key pPartners fail to provide an appropriate level of support to children and families to support meaningful partnership working and co-production
  • Failure to respond to changes in regulations, national guidance and best practice guidance

Workforce - flexible working 

Flexible working - 4 day week model was considered and discussed at a Workforce Board meeting. It was agreed to provide a summary version of the flexible working policy, AfC will not progress the 4 day working week, consider more part time working arrangements and be open to more flexible working arrangements in frontline teams.

Quarterly business plan and project update

The AfC Board received the quarterly update on business planning and project work. Progress was noted in the children’s services key projects and there is now a distinction shown between the business plan projects and the efficiency projects so savings targets can be monitored and progressed.