Agenda item

Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board Annual Report 2017/2018

To receive and consider the 2017/18 Annual Report from the Brent Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB).

Minutes:

Mike Howard (Independent Chair, Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) presented the report which outlined the activities of the Brent LSCB in the period from 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2018. He reminded Members that the LSCB’s role was to coordinate and monitor the effectiveness of the services which were provided to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people in the Borough. Mr Howard emphasised that the LSCB did not commission or deliver frontline services and each partner agency maintained their individual accountability as per Section 11 of The Children Act 2004.

 

Members heard that the LSCB had four priorities for 2017-18 – domestic abuse; neglect; child sexual abuse; and child and parental mental ill health. Throughout the year, the LSCB had carried out a range of activities to address these priorities which had been outlined in Section five of the annual report (pages 26-46 of the Agenda pack). The Board had been successful in involving new partners – four new lay members had been recruited which had improved the LSCB’s links with the local community. With various backgrounds, all of them were Brent residents who had an interest in working with children. In addition, the Board’s involvement with many of the Borough’s schools had been improved. Mr Howard said that he had spoken to 60 senior heads at a development day at Stonebridge Primary School and had addressed a schools’ conference earlier in the year. He reported that many schools had participated in a recent Section 11 audit which had enabled them to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their safeguarding arrangements.   

 

Mr Howard expressed concern that the Board had not made sufficient progress in performance management which had been one of the areas identified as requiring improvement during the 2015 Ofsted review of the effectiveness of Brent LSCB. One of the reasons for this was the fact that many agencies had decided not to collect and analyse data due to a lack of resources. Gail Tolley (the Council’s Strategic Director of Children and Young People) clarified that this did not mean that data would no longer be available - statutory partners would continue to collect data; however, the challenge would be to combine it together. Overcoming this would require distinct resources to fund a Data Analyst post which had not been found in the budget for the year ahead. This view was supported by Duncan Ambrose (Brent CCG’s Assistant Director) who confirmed that while all health providers commissioned by the CCG supplied data, analysing it to understand what the numbers meant in the context of Brent remained challenging.  

 

As far as training was concerned, the LSCB was reviewing its training offer in order to maximise its efficiency. The Board remained keen to deliver multiagency training as it allowed staff from various organisations to understand safeguarding from a collective point of view. Despite the negative effect of staff shortages and budgetary pressures, the LSCB had been able to deliver a very successful training event in January 2018 which had explored themes emerging from serious youth violence. Key highlights of the event were a presentation on contextual safeguarding delivered by Dr Carlene Firmin, Principal Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire, and a panel discussion involving Gail Tolley, Andrew Dunne (Deputy Headteacher at Newman Catholic College), representatives of the Police, Red Thread and the local youth community.

 

Mr Howard directed Members’ attention to Section six of the report (pages 47-51 of the Agenda pack) which outlined the future of the LSCB. He explained that following the publication of the 2018 Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance, Brent LSCB had entered a transitional period during which it would carry out all statutory functions until the new safeguarding partner arrangements would begin to operate in Brent. Under the new structure, there would be three statutory partners responsible for safeguarding children – the Local Authority, the Police and Health, and meetings between Brent Council’s Chief Executive, Brent CCG Chief Officer and the Brent Police Borough Commander had already started taking place.

 

The Members of the Committee welcomed the report and asked questions that related to the difference the Board had made over the last year; issues causing concerns and the Chair’s ability to provide robust challenge to partner organisations and safeguarding standards. Mr Howard explained that a key role for the LSCB was to promote awareness of safeguarding and by involving a wider range of partners, it had contributed to creating an environment where agencies could feel that they had the support of the wider safeguarding community. Furthermore, LSCB funding remained a major concern – although Brent had a small budget compared to other London Boroughs such as Bexley and Camden, the Chair expressed confidence that the Board had been efficient in fulfilling its functions. The LSCB had been lobbying the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to increase the Police’s contribution but it had not been successful. Nevertheless, Mr Howard said that he had challenged individual partners in cases when he had felt that there were issues. For instance, the engagement of the Community Rehabilitation Company had improved after Mr Howard’s intervention. As far as challenging safeguarding standards was concerned, Mr Howard gave operation Encompass as an example and explained that it had taken three years to persuade the Police that the model, originally developed in the London Borough of Wandsworth, would work in Brent. In response to a follow-up question about the effectiveness of operation Encompass in Brent, Mr Howard said that he did not have data that would allow him to benchmark performance against other boroughs, some of which may had introduced the practice much earlier than Brent. However, he emphasised that his role as an Independent Chair of the LSCB was to question schools on their actions upon a referral and this would be one of the topics discussed at the LSCB meeting in December 2018.

 

The Committee questioned the LSCB’s effectiveness in addressing the recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) report on London North West University Healthcare National Health Service Trust published in August 2018; tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE); and measuring the long-term impact of its initiatives. Mr Howard said that he had had conversations with Mr Ambrose and Dr Arlene Boroda, Designated Doctor for Safeguarding Children at Brent CCG, and that he would be meeting Carol Ann Williams, Head of Safeguarding at the Trust to discuss the paper. Mr Howard noted that the findings of the report had also been raised at a recent meeting of Brent Children’s Trust. He informed Members that once he had held meetings with stakeholders, he would brief Gail Tolley and they would decide on a joint approach to the Trust to ensure that the findings that relate to children services and maternity services would be addressed properly. 

 

In relation to CSE, the Committee heard that the Board had raised awareness through a number of initiatives, including a Section 11 audit. He acknowledged that although it was difficult to quantify results and measure long-term impact, the number of referrals to the Brent Family Front Door (BFFD) and police enquiries and investigations could be an indicator of the effectiveness of the Board. Councillor Mili Patel (Lead Member for Children's Safeguarding, Early Help and Social Care) commented on Children, Young People and Contextual Safeguarding Task Group scoping paper included in the agenda for the present meeting and encouraged the Task Group to include recommendations related to measuring the long-term impact of the LSCB’s initiatives.

 

Members enquired about the LSCB’s work related to gangs, online abuse and radicalisation. Mr Howard said that the role of the Board was to increase awareness of all forms of exploitation. He added that he was confident in the work undertaken by the LSCB as a number of agencies, including children’s services, adult social services, community protection and the Police, were members of the Board. In addition, in order to broaden engagement, a Violence, Vulnerability and Exploitation sub-group had been formed following a recent restructure of the LSCB. It would be co-chaired by a lay member who was a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and a former Detective Inspector who was currently Head of Safeguarding at Queen’s Park Rangers. Nevertheless, Mr Howard emphasised that it would be essential for the three statutory partners under new arrangements to coordinate their work in order to sustain the progress achieved by the Board.  

 

A Member of the Committee asked whether the Independent Chair of the LSCB considered the cuts to funding made as a result of austerity would have an impact on the provision of his independent challenge to the agencies involved in safeguarding children. Mr Howard explained that reducing the funding available to certain organisations and abolishing the statutory nature of LSCBs were decisions made by the government. In his view, an independent oversight would be provided, but it would be the responsibility of the three safeguarding partners to make the new arrangements work. He directed the Committee’s attention to section six of the report and said that he had discussed the transitional arrangements with Carolyn Downs (the Council’s Chief Executive) and Gail Tolley who had expressed their support for the structure that had been put in place.

 

In response to a question that related to the introduction of Universal Credit (UC) and its impact on children in Brent, Mr Howard said that the decision to roll UC out had been made by the government and it had not been included in the report as commenting on it was outside of the remit of the LSCB. The Board had acknowledged that children live in poverty (page 17 of the Agenda pack) and the Neglect sub-group would examine any cases referred to the BFFD and assess whether poverty had been a cause of neglect. Furthermore, Gail Tolley explained that the Council rather than the LSCB had a statutory responsibility for the wellbeing of children and noted that not all children who lived in poverty were at risk of harm or abuse.

 

The Committee enquired about the reasons why a high proportion of training sessions had been cancelled (32.7%). Mr Howard responded that these were outlined on page 33 of the Agenda pack. He added that the Brent LSCB had worked closely with its counterpart in Harrow to try to offset some of the costs associated with running the sessions, but this approach had not delivered the expected results and was being reconsidered. Moreover, there had been changes to the LSCB Training Coordinator role which had been replaced by a Strategic Partnerships Learning and Development Co-ordinator, with the main difference being that the new role was jointly funded by the Community Wellbeing Department, the Children and Young People Department, and the Chief Executive’s Department at Brent Council, with the aim to provide a joint approach to the training needs of the LSCB and the Brent Safeguarding Adults Board. In response to a question about overseeing training delivered by other organisations, Mr Howard said that while the LSCB was aware of sessions being offered by partner organisations, the content of these was often specific to the agency organising the training.   

 

Members directed their attention to the recruitment of lay members and youth engagement in the process. Mr Howard pointed out that young people had not been involved and explained how the four new lay members had been recruited, emphasising the important role they had in engaging with the community. A Member of the Committee raised the lack of engagement with foodbanks as an issue and Gail Tolley responded that this fell outside of the remit of the LSCB as outreach to voluntary sector organisations regarding responses to concerns and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks was a responsibility of the Council and the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) whose work had been complimented by Ofsted during the recent inspection. Gail Tolley assured Members that voluntary organisations, including foodbanks, had been considered and had been made aware of the Council’s training offer. She added that if there were any foodbanks that could benefit from safeguarding training, these should contact the LADO.

 

The Committee scrutinised the Board’s finances and enquired how the Board had balanced its budget having in mind that expenditure in 2017/2018 had exceeded funding by over £38,000. Mr Howard explained that the shortfall had been covered by reserves which had been spent. Looking into the future, it would be hard to predict what else, apart from data collection and analysis, the LSCB might not be in position to deliver as this would depend on the safeguarding partners and their budgets for the year ahead.

 

A specific issue that Members discussed was the lack of engagement and irregular attendance on behalf of the Police. A number of safeguarding leads for Brent had been appointed over the 12 months covered in the report. Turnover had been reduced following the appointment of Det Supt Owain Richards as Head of Safeguarding, but it could become an issue again once the tri-borough policing arrangements came into force. Nevertheless, Mr Howard remained positive that the momentum established by Det Supt Richards would be maintained and continued into the new safeguarding arrangements.

 

Mr Howard reflected that the Brent LSCB had achieved more than some of the other London Boroughs in relation to preparing for the new safeguarding arrangements. However, he pointed out that the quality of safeguarding would depend on the three statutory partners and their willingness to use the new structure that had been put in place by the Board. Mr Howard emphasised that the only recommendation he would ask the Committee to make was to encourage the Local Authority, the Police, and Health to recognise the importance of using their time and resources to commit staff to safeguarding as the new structure would be effective only if stakeholders gave their time and got involved.

 

RESOLVED:

(i)    The contents of the Brent Local Safeguarding Children Board Annual Report 2017/2018, be noted;

 

(ii)  The Scrutiny Committee reiterates that the Local Authority, the Police, and Health recognise the importance of using their time and resources to commit staff to safeguarding children.

 

Councillor Hylton (in attendance) joined the meeting at 6:10 pm.

 

Helen Askwith (Co-Opted Member) jointed the meeting at 6:48 pm. 

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