Children & Young People Scrutiny Committee May 2021 – pandemic recovery and safeguarding focus – climate change recognised as an issue

Mike Franks reviews the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee of 26th May for CEM. With impressive attention to detail, Mike has produced a shorter summary, and an extended account below that documents a wide range of concerns for our future generations as Manchester emerges gradually from the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of Operation Scrutiny.

Councillor Julie Reid (Gorton and Abbey Hey) as the new chair of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee checked there was no urgent business, appeals, or interests to declare, and minutes of the previous meeting in March were approved.

 Item 5 was the Manchester Safeguarding Partnership Annual Report. Dr Henri Giller (Independent Chair of the Manchester Safeguarding Partnership) reported the Partnership was in good health. Its vision: Working together to create a place where all children and adults in Manchester are safe, free from abuse and neglect and supported to live happy and healthy lives.

Item 6 Sean McKendrick (Deputy Director of Children’s Services) introduced the report on the Impact of COVID which again carelessly increases the liability of the City. This report focuses on delivery arrangements and performance of children’s services and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services’ ongoing response to mental health issues during the pandemic.

Julie Reid raised concern about the ‘gap’ pupils disadvantaged by not getting education at home through lack of access to wifi for instance when returning after lockdown. For early years missing Health Visitors checks ‘COVID babies’ may be a future issue. Numbers of people using food banks are made worse by Universal Credit. Lastly, no full Ofsted inspections until autumn – what is the impact for schools and for Ofsted?

Cllr Zahra Alijah (Fallowfield) endorsed rejection of the ‘deficit’ narrative, and asked how Manchester will support schools if the Indian variant of COVID currently high in Blackburn with Darwen and Bolton spreads.

Item 7 Children and Educational Services – Overview and Key Issues – Paul Marshall (Strategic Director of Children and Education Services) gave an oral report on the priorities for the Directorate over the period of lockdown and the impact it has had on children and young people. Set in context of the Our Manchester Strategy and directorate principles, they wish to lead across the partnership on cross-cutting themes such as inequalities and the climate element (a major concern for the youth parliament) and they want voices of young people to be heard clearly across the city.

Item 8 Overview report is to be considered along with future agenda setting with the cameras turned off.

For fuller details of items discussed, questions asked (including those from two newly elected councillors) and answers given, please see the longer version of this report.

 

Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee meeting 26-05-2021 – Longer Version

Councillor Julie Reid (Gorton and Abbey Hey) as the new chair of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee checked there was no urgent business, appeals or interests to declare, and minutes of the previous meeting in March were approved.

Item 5 was the Manchester Safeguarding Partnership Annual Report. Dr Henri Giller ( Independent Chair of the Manchester Safeguarding Partnership) reported the Partnership was in good health. Its vision: Working together to create a place where all children and adults in Manchester are safe, free from abuse and neglect and supported to live happy and healthy lives. Following the Wood Report the partnership replaced the previous separate safeguarding of adults and children in a new integrated arrangement. The first annual report covers both children and adults during the period October 2019 to March 2020. Themes such as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), Child Neglect, Mental Health, Transitions and Complex Safeguarding issues are addressed. Serious Case Reviews are monitored and it is important that these reviews are timely and learning is effectively communicated to partner organisations. The role of chair of the partnership in the annual report is to highlight where it is working well and areas requiring further attention. Cllr Garry Bridges (Old Moat – Executive Member for Children’s Services) attends the Safeguarding Partnership and was at one in the morning. Cllr Garry Bridges stated that as the independent chair, Henri Giller’s views of the performance of all partners are very important. Cllr Linda Foley (newly elected in Didsbury East) raised the question of whether tragic suicides over recent years in her ward will be within the remit of the Safeguarding Partnership. Cllr Sandra Collins (Harpurhey) asked if Adverse Childhood Experiences training is available for scrutiny members. Julie Reid cited instances of children wanting to return unable to do so where vulnerable parents lack capacity, as well as cases of trauma.

Henri Giller replied that significant enhancements to services have been put in place over the last twelve months, and mental health continues to be a priority. Adults and children are being brought together in Manchester with the Leadership and Accountability Board developing joint strategies. Over the last twelve months areas of common interest and overlap, and what should be done about them, have been explored which includes transitions, complex and contextual safeguarding with initiatives to provide greater connectivity. There are challenges being worked on, for instance the conflicting legislative bases, capacity, and continuity of support over time.

Paul Marshall (Strategic Director for Children and Education Services) stated that the Community Safety Partnership sponsors roll out of Adverse Childhood Experiences training and that youth justice workers are already trauma informed. This is to be rolled out across the city. Cllr Sameem Ali (Moss Side) stated that an Understanding Exploitation course is being developed under Complex Safeguarding, and she asked to be part of that training scheme. Cllr Jill Lovecy (Rusholme) requested a further report at a relatively early date. Cllr Amna Abdullatif (Ardwick) shared concerns regarding joint adult and children safeguarding and questioned how successful this has been. With experience over the last year, have improved ways of working been identified? Cllr Julie Reid asked about the effectiveness of  self-evaluation methods, and about how to avoid blame culture.

Henri Giller responded that within the partnership there is an identified lead for each priority area with an operational infrastructure which seeks to embed positive changes. The Partnership has built a sense of ownership of the priorities. During the last year, issues of safeguarding affected by COVID were addressed regularly, so services retained impact. Knowledge gained will be documented and shared. The Partnership offers opportunities for challenge and constructive response to blame culture.

Cllr Garry Bridges (the Exec Member) offered training for councillors around corporate parenting and safeguarding and other issues as required. Julie Reid concluded the item, stating the recommendation, thanking Henri Giller for his attendance and confirming future scrutiny.

Item 6 Sean McKendrick (Deputy Director of Children’s Services) introduced the report on the Impact of COVID which again carelessly increases the liability of the City. This report focuses on delivery arrangements and performance of children’s services and Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services’ ongoing response to mental health issues during the pandemic. Amanda Corcoran ( Director of Education) added that since the report was written they now recommend secondary schools continue the use of face masks in communal areas, and a retention of ‘bubbles’.

Cllr Zahra Alijah (Fallowfield) said she found the updates very useful, noted a varied approach in recent visits to schools, and wondered whether they are asked about current practices, and whether COVID is affecting needs assessment for children in early years. Cllr Rob Nunney (newly elected in Woodhouse Park) inquired about a drop in school attendance in the week beginning 19 April.

Amanda Corcoran responded that previously all school risk assessments had been seen by the Health & Safety team so were aware of measures in place initially. Now moving away from previous guidance, some primary schools are keen to have children mixing on playgrounds. With Public Health colleagues, a webinar last week strongly recommended keeping risk assessed actions in place for now, but the Local Authority lacks enforcement power. COVID greatly impacts across all school ages but in early years it is especially apparent, for instance with reading skills. Not yet seeing impact on education, health and care plans, but looking at possible activities over the summer. While not clear why attendance dropped in one week in April, school attendance is now around 94% for May overall. Linda Foley commented that different school holidays around Easter impact on attendance around that time.

Julie Reid raised concern about the ‘gap’ for pupils disadvantaged by not getting education at home through lack of access to wifi, for instance, when returning after lockdown. For early years, missing Health Visitors checks ‘COVID babies’ may be a future issue. Numbers of people using food banks are made worse by Universal Credit. Lastly, no full Ofsted inspections until autumn – what is the impact for schools and for Ofsted?

Amanda Corcoran referred to agreed principles for setting holidays across Greater Manchester which need revisiting. On the ‘gap’, the Children’s Commissioner Sir Kevan Collins estimates a four-year recovery period with the UK children missing more school education than elsewhere (Manchester even more). It is unrealistic to talk about ‘catch up’ and unfair cramming. Ofsted are in schools, but it had been remote, focussing on schools that were inadequate or that require improvement. Ofsted are not doing full assessments until autumn.  Sean McKendrick referred to the issue of new parents with lack of socialisation and development for children and babies and ways of rectifying this ‘gap’. There is an open dialogue with Health Visitor colleagues and service has improved. Aware also of the need for pre- and post-natal support services for vulnerable parents. Garry Bridges gave a summary: still dealing with COVID isolating and contact tracing, teacher-assessed grades adding to pressures on schools whilst dealing with the recovery. We await government response to the Kevan Collins review and which recommendations they accept and how well they fund it. In Manchester we want to be ambitious declaring a ‘year of the child’ next year, to reframe messages for young people and create positive opportunities. Through the budget process, early intervention services have been protected.

Zahra Alijah endorsed rejection of the ‘deficit’ narrative, and asked how Manchester will support schools if the Indian variant of COVID currently high in Blackburn with Darwen and Bolton spreads. Julie Reid commented we will have to live with COVID for a long time. The report shows an increase of cases of domestic abuse during lockdown, so the police should be invited to the next meeting of this scrutiny committee to give their perspective. Cllr Nasrin Ali (Crumpsall) asked about support for special children. Aamanda Corcoran responded. Structures are in place working closely with Public Health for test and trace. Schools know to report positive tests for in depth contact tracing locally. Infection rates are much lower than in the autumn term. All schools have a point of contact through the senior quality assurance officer and with a COVID lead who liaises across schools and the council, which works similarly with those with special educational needs and disabilities.

Liam Duffy (co-opted member) cautions regarding present year 10s and 12s with staff flagging due to extra workload in assessing grades. Examining boards need to be challenged for doing very little to assist this process, and where there may be downgrades. Julie Reid added that during lockdown there has been no acknowledgement by the government of students pursuing vocational qualifications not receiving help with laptops or wifi, yet they are expected to complete the same number of units. Julie Reid acknowledged the COVID update as a regular item.

Item 7 Children and Educational Services – Overview and Key Issues – Paul Marshall gave an oral report on the priorities for the Directorate over the period of lockdown and the impact it has had on children and young people. Whilst not yet free of COVID, issues are apparent. Paul Marshall echoed comments regarding the resilience of young people, and celebrating that. He recognised the need for an inclusion strategy, opportunities and employment prospects for young people beyond the education system, and children with additional support needs (for example where parenting is an issue). Theyhave talked about resilience of children and where technology can be enhanced as part of Manchester’s creative and innovative approach. Set in context of the Our Manchester Strategy and directorate principles, theywish to lead across the partnership on cross-cutting themes such as inequalities and the climate element (a major concern for the youth parliament) and they want voices of young people to be heard clearly across the city. The areas considered include:

– building on the strengths of the school system

– reduce NEETS (not in education, employment or training)

– collaboration with local care organisations (on compromised parenting and smoke free families for instance)

– Special Educational Needs and disability

– transition from children to adult services

– introducing a quality assurance programme (an inspection year for Children’s Services)

– troubled families and the impact of early intervention

– family poverty, homelessness and youth violence (led though our neighbourhood teams)

Linda Foley posed the question where after two ‘Requires Improvement’ outcomes from previous inspections of Children’s Services, what may be expected from the next, with staff wellbeing a massive issue. Paul Marshall proposed to bring self-assessment to scrutiny and invite committee to contribute, and said he believes Children’s Services to be a lot further on than at the previous inspection in 2017-18. He commended the contribution of staff over the last eighteen months, and said he values relationships built with families. He said we should tell our inspectors what we do well (for instance in staff recruitment and retention). Julie Reid confirmed we have come a long way since 2014, but we shouldn’t be complacent, and suggested a sub-group to consider the Ofsted inspection in greater detail.

Item 8 Overview report is to be considered along with future agenda setting with the cameras turned off.

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