Opposing View: Let’s put children before politics

Did we take the decision to uncouple Peterborough Children’s Services from Cambridge County Council, with the full understanding of the challenges this entailed and that it could risk a judgement from Ofsted that would make for uncomfortable reading? (writes ​Cllr Jackie Allen - Shadow cabinet member for Children’s Services)
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The answer is yes we did. Some red flags showed there was a lack of focus within our own Local Authority.

The joint service arrangements showed signs of stress and lack of accountability. It was imperative to act and improve the experience and safety of our cared for children and young people.

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The Conservative administration approved the initial transformation of Children’s Services to make the appointment of a Director of Children’s Services & Education exclusively for our service and John Gregg joined PCC in July 2023. Even at interview stage John was aware of the challenges that were ahead and as an experienced officer has been clear that we would accept the findings of the impending Ofsted inspection. Fast forward to early December 2023 and the full Ofsted inspection took place with the results of the inspection published last week.

Peterborough City Councillor Jackie Allen,  Shadow cabinet member for Children’s ServicesPeterborough City Councillor Jackie Allen,  Shadow cabinet member for Children’s Services
Peterborough City Councillor Jackie Allen, Shadow cabinet member for Children’s Services

As expected, three of the judgements require improvement to be rated good and the experience and progress of Care Leavers is rated inadequate. A Children’s Services Improvement Board has been established, working cross party is myself and the Lead Member for Children’s Services Cllr Ray Bisby. previously Conservative and now in same role with the new administration.

Staff recruitment and retention will be pivotal to offering quality and timely care for our children and young people. Plans are under way to develop a Social Work Academy, so newly qualified Social Workers receive wrap around support from the Academy to manage their caseload and ensure they remain in the profession they trained for. This will reduce the reliance on expensive Agency Social Workers. Recruitment for other key positions is gathering pace and a permanent director of Safeguarding will join the service in March.

Peterborough must do better for our Care Leavers. How many of us with children expect them to leave home at 18 and live independent lives. There are too many gaps in the support offered to care leavers and compared to their peers, educational attainment is lower meaning they are less likely to go to University. An essential link is the role of a Corporate Parent which is the collective responsibility of the Council, Elected Members, Employees and Partner Agencies to provide the best possible care and safeguarding for children looked after by us. We must not avoid every opportunity to ask probing questions. Positively the service is working with housing providers to strengthen the accommodation offer for Care Leavers.

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Elected councillors that do not sit on the corporate parenting committee should understand they still have a responsibility to be curious about Children in care and commit to attending meetings when possible. Partnership working and commitment from elected members and other public bodies must evolve so that solutions to the local offer and current shortfalls in performance can be sought.

How do we prepare for a future that indicates demand and complexity for Children’s Services will continue to increase. Developing a digital strategy and modelling to anticipate any forthcoming demand will protect vulnerable children. This will also aid with budget setting and resourcing and the residents of Peterborough who completed the budget simulator told the council they would accept less spend on other services to increase support for our children.

It should also be recognised the cost-of-living crisis has pushed families into poverty and an increasing reliance on statutory services. The good news is Central Government acknowledges we need to do better for our children and Grant Funding for Family Hubs, is a National Programme that has been rolled out to Peterborough. The aim is to ensure Parents and especially Early Years receive access to Universal and Targeted services.

Put simply, this support can prevent problems becoming complex. This might just be the solution to more children being school ready, increasing attainment at school and reversing the current trajectory of demands on Children’s services.

The Key priority for Peterborough City Council should be its children, no matter who is in administration! The Conservative Group support this view and will put children first.

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