As Chair of the Inspiring Young People Overview and Scrutiny Board, it is my role, and the role of my fellow board members, to scrutinise all the services provided for children and young people by Derby City Council.
With services ranging from education, early help and safeguarding to fostering and adoption, there is clearly lots to look at. The Board receives regular reports and updates on the effectiveness of these services and it is part of our role to challenge and question the decisions that have been made.
Each year, the Board also takes a much deeper dive into a particular topic. Last year, we looked at fostering services in Derby and we recently presented our findings to Cabinet for consideration.
As part of its review, the Board looked at how we can recruit more foster carers and how we can better support the excellent carers we already have. Derby City Council, like many local authorities, struggles to get enough foster carers onto its books.
First and foremost, this has an impact on our children in care who deserve the stability and security of a long-term, foster placement. But it also has a substantial financial impact on the authority, because we have to place more of our children with private sector providers who charge more for their services. Personally, I am very uneasy about the concept of making a profit out of vulnerable children, as some of these companies do, but until we have enough of our owner carers, we will be forced to use that market.
The Board made a number of recommendations ranging from removing some of the hurdles potential foster carers face when they first contact the Council to improving the marketing strategy for the fostering service and helping existing carers feel valued and rewarded for their work.
But there is always more that can be done. So if you’ve ever considered giving a child a chance of a better life and have a spare room please, please contact Derby City Council and discuss it with the Fostering Team.
Another issue that we’ve been looking at is the use of agency social workers. The retention of skilled social workers represents another significant challenge for local authorities, as agencies can demand extremely high fees for plugging the gaps in our workforce. This leads to spiralling costs for the Council and increased pressure on existing staff.
Again, like many upper tier and unitary councils, we struggle to recruit enough social workers despite a very attractive package being offered by the council. In a bid to attract and retain experienced staff, we offer high rates of pay, good quality training as well as mortgage subsidies and relocation expenses.
Furthermore, the Council is working with others across the East Midlands to limit the use of agency workers. But some companies continue to lure social workers away by offering substantial ‘golden-hellos’ which for many are difficult to turn down.
As a Board, we’ve written to the Minister to ask if a cap on agency social workers pay can be introduced, in a similar way to the cap introduced on agency staff in the NHS. We are currently awaiting a response from the Government.
This year the Board is embarking on a review of how the Council can better support children leaving care. I look forward to seeing how we can continue to influence the provision of services to children and young people in Derby.