Agenda item

Update Report: Early Help and Children's Social Care

To receive an update on the measures and provision in place to support Croydon’s vulnerable children following lifting of Covid-19 lockdown.


The Director for Early Help and Children’s Social Care presented the report and the following was noted:


  • Contacts had reduced over the lockdown period, this had now begun to rise with August figures in line with numbers experienced before lockdown. Referrals had increased but not spiked.
  • There were concerns in managing some of the challenges experienced by families which had not come to light due to children not being in sight of services such as schools and addressing these was priority for services.
  • The issues experienced by Kent County Council have had a London wide impact.
  • In order to sustain service improvement a quality assurance framework was implemented to enable senior management to retain focus on practice.
  • There had been a reduction in the number of heads of service, with those remaining in post continuing to work to deliver improvements.
  • One of the strengths of the department was its systemic practice, which included a successful bid for the social workers in schools project, the impact of which was expected to be extensive.
  • Work continued to address the impact of Covid 19, in particular on the mental health and wellbeing of children.
  • A focus visit was expected from Ofsted in the autumn. This was due to various reasons including the Council’s financial challenge, the resignation of the Executive Director and incidents that had occurred since the inspection.


Following the presentation, the Chair and the Sub-Committee thanked officers for all the work they had done in serving the needs of Croydon’s children, and in particular recognised the role of Robert Henderson as well as Nick Pendry in bringing the service forward and driving improved standards of professionalism.



A Member questioned how the department was managing the difficulties of protecting children at serious risk during the lockdown period. Officers said that as soon as the lockdown had been announced they reassessed all Child Protection (CP) and Child in Need (CIN) cases and appointed priority numbers. All Priority 1 children continued to have direct visits from social workers in full PPE and officers were confident in ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable children identified. There was reasonable confidence that the safety of children on CIN plans was maintained as best as possible, although visits for those children could only be maintained through virtual means. The risk was that these children may have become more at risk during the Covid period and this may not have been identified due to a lack of face to face visits. There had been a spike since the end of lock down in referrals of adolescent children due to the impact of issues as a result of Covid.


Additionally since the end of restrictions there had been an increase in gang activity, exploitation of adolescents and knife crime which had not been present during the lockdown period.


It was asked how the department was securing permanent placements for the considerable number of children ordered by the courts and with children awaiting adoption. Officers advised that there had been some delays, in particular with introductions to prospective adopters, which normally take a number of staggered close visits, long term foster carers and special guardianship. There had also been delays experienced in the recruitment of potential adopters and the recruitment of foster carers had slowed due to the lockdown.  The Permanence team was working to get back on track to ensure that any delays in seeking the right placements for children were minimised.


A Member asked when the project for social workers to be based in schools would commence. Officers responded that this project was currently in the recruitment stage, with funding for eight social workers secured through a Department for Education pilot. It was envisaged that all posts would be recruited to by October. The purpose of the pilot was to reduce the number of contacts through the SPOC.


In light of the Council’s current financial challenges, it was questioned whether there would be capacity within the service to deal with spikes in referrals, as experienced during the Covid recovery. Officers confirmed there was built in capacity to manage any consequences. There was an agreed plan in place in the event of acute spike to recruit additional agency social workers. The financial position was not extended to the delivery of statutory services and there had been assurance from the Council’s leadership that needs would be met.


A Member commented that one of the threats mentioned on page eight of the report was the continued child protection work in Croydon and officers were asked to elaborate on that statement. Officers replied that the threats alluded to were based on a mixture of a rise in cases and the complexity of issues presented which resulted in issues such as mental health concerns, increased incidences of domestic violence as well as difficulties in managing parenting. All issues would require different levels of intervention and a multi-agency response.


Concerns were raised on the ability of staff to provide services to children in need who may not come to the attention of services during the lockdown period. Officers acknowledged that this was a challenge that may need to be resolved should there be further lockdowns, as there would be an increased risk for vulnerable children without regular contact.


Officers were thanked for their attendance and response to questions


In reaching its recommendations the Sub-Committee came to the following Conclusions:

  1. The dedication and effort of staff through challenging circumstances was commendable.
  2. The Director of Early Help and Children’s Social Care provided a positive insight on upcoming challenges and how the department was prepared to manage the difficult times ahead.
  3. The complexity of the challenging times ahead was not to be underestimated.
  4. Reassurance was needed that there would be flexibility in resources and capacity to meet the needs of families with additional needs in the coming months in light of the expected financial challenge as well as pressures of a second wave of Covid-19.
  5. There were still concerns as to how the department would respond to the unknown level of increased risk to Children In Need, in particular adolescents, especially in the event of further lockdown restrictions.
  6. The need for urgency in placements for children must remain a priority
  7. The news of the funding received from the Department for Education to pilot placements of 8 social workers in schools was praised and a future update on progress and outcome would be welcomed.



The Sub-Committee resolved to Recommend:

  1. That the department devise a clear plan as to how it will protect the currently unknown number of Children In Need whose behaviour may have escalated, especially in case of further lockdown restrictions.
  2. That the Chair of the Children and Young People Sub-Committee write a letter of thanks to staff in children’s service for their dedication and hard work.


Supporting documents: