Yesterday, the Government published its Adoption Action Plan, including scorecards for councils. There are a lot of positive proposals to improve the system, but the LGA is concerned that scorecards only provide a very limited picture of performance. Whilst councils are keen to reduce delays in matching children to loving families, we feel that these sorts of Government targets risk shifting the emphasis away from the quality of placements to the speed at which they are made. The Children's Minister, Tim Loughton, has committed to working with the LGA on taking forward the reform of adoption and care. More information is available below.
There have been several other important developments over the last month including the confirmation of funding for the Children's Improvement Board for 2012/13 and we have also published the interim report from our and the Department for Education's action learning research into the council role in education. This is now available to read on the LGA's website.
We are always interested in hearing from you so please contact us if there is anything you'd like to find out more about by emailing email@example.com.
Cllr David Simmonds
Chairman, LGA Children and Young People Board
Further to the Prime Minister's announcement on the 9 March, the Secretary of State yesterday published full detail of the Government's Adoption Action Plan, which contains proposals aimed at improving and speeding up the adoption system. The plan includes many positive changes such as cutting bureaucracy and making it easier for foster carers to adopt, but also includes the introduction of a 'scorecard' for each local authority, heavily focused on the length of time the adoption process takes. The Government will also set performance thresholds for timeliness, which will be progressively tightened over the next four years.
Councils are rightly keen to reduce delays in matching children in their care to loving families, however, the LGA feels that scorecards do not provide a fair picture of performance as they do not take into account the quality of placements or the excellent work some councils do in finding homes for children that are harder to place. They could therefore cause unwarranted reputational damage for some children's services departments and potentially deter people from adopting when councils are already faced with a system that has five times more children waiting for adoption, than we have adopters.
The focus on only adoption also fails to take into account other options for permanence more appropriate for some children, such as Special Guardianship which may be awarded to family members or long-term foster parents. Although adoption rates have decreased, over the last 5 years there has been a 27 per cent increase in overall permanence orders.
The LGA is a partner in a major programme of improvement for children's services. Through the Children's Improvement Board, it will work with local councils to ensure that improvement support on adoption is available to those areas that need it.
We will continue to work with councils and the Government on adoption and care reform.
In a strong endorsement of a sector led approach to improvement, the Department for Education (DfE) has granted the Children's Improvement Board (CIB) a further Â£8 million for 2012/13. This funding will enable the CIB to maintain and expand its activities, including making increased sums available to local authorities through regional allocations.
Colin Hilton has been appointed as the new Director for CIB. In taking up his appointment Colin said: "I am delighted to lead the CIB delivery team at this critical time for sector led improvement. There can be no more important mission for those in public service than to secure the future of our children and I look forward to working with colleagues to that end." Colin was a teacher before entering local government management. He was Director of Education and Leisure services in St. Helens before becoming Executive Director for Children's Services in Liverpool and then Chief Executive from 2006-10.
DfE is consulting on revised guidance on the council duty to provide 'positive leisure-time activities' to young people.
The draft guidance has been put in the 'Positive for Youth' forum in the 'Supporting Services for Young People' group on the Knowledge Hub, to give people an opportunity to discuss it.
Over recent months, the Virtual Staff College (VSC) has been redesigning the Directors of Children's Services (DCS) leadership programme to ensure that there is an ongoing and comprehensive offer of leadership development for all serving DCSs; both for those who have participated in previous programmes and for those who have yet had the opportunity to do so.
From 5 March 2012, the VCS will be inviting registrations for a new modular programme and would encourage all DCSs who would like to continue accessing leadership development and opportunities to learn with their peers, to complete a simple registration form.
If you have any further questions about the 2012-13 programme, please contact the team: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Department for Education (DfE) is inviting councils to put forward bids for funding, typically of between Â£200,000-Â£400,000, to carry out trials of securing and delivering early education places for two year olds in England. This comes ahead of a requirement on all councils needing to provide free early education for 20 per cent most disadvantaged children from September 2013. All completed bids must be received by the DfE by 4pm on Monday 2 April.
The LGA supports the Government's policy objectives to provide free early education to the most disadvantaged two year olds. However, in order for this policy to be successful, we have argued that it is essential that the initiative is fully funded. We have serious concerns that the lack of capital funding available may prevent adequate provision of high quality free early education.
As part of their 'Cut Them Free from Child Sexual Exploitation' campaign, Barnardo's has published a checklist for lead members of Children's Services and another one for all councillors, to help councils tackle child sexual exploitation. The Government launched a national action plan towards the end of last year which calls on all councils to produce a local action plan for how they will tackle child sexual exploitation in their area. The LGA and Barnardos are working together to look at ways how we can support councils in producing these local action plans.
On 19 March the LGA will publish its Hidden Talents report on youth unemployment, launching a new campaign on this critical issue for local authorities. We will make the case for giving councils and their local partners the leading role in helping support the most disengaged young people into work and learning through a community budgeting approach.
The report explores the trends in youth engagement, looking at the growth in the number of long term disengaged young people and the disproportionate impact the recession has had on this group. We will also look at the complex circumstances these young people may have, and we propose a new solution to support this group into work and learning.
This solution is based on the central role of councils in supporting the most disengaged; and the need for local partnerships to reconnect education, skills and work-based learning provision to meet local labour market need.
The full report, its supporting research, and a summary of the outcomes of our Youth Summit engagement will be available online on Monday 19 March on our webpages.
The interim report of the LGA and DfE action learning research into the council role in education has been published. It is based on evidence from initial fieldwork visits to each of the nine councils taking part in the research; interviews with key national stakeholders, including LGA members on the Ministerial Advisory Group; and a brief review of relevant published literature and research outcomes.
The interim report presents a positive picture and demonstrates that councils and schools are working together effectively at a local level to tackle the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities presented by a more autonomous schools system.
Reducing health inequalities for children and young people conference
22 March 2012 | London
This free national conference will help delegates understand how they can use the proposed public health reforms to ensure children and young people's interests remain at the centre of local authority and public health services. The event will share early learning from local authorities and their partners who are making progress in this agenda. The event is aimed at senior officers and elected members in local government, the health sector and stakeholders with an interest in children and young people's issues.
Raising ambition, achieving potential: the council role in education and training
31 May 2012 | London
This conference will explore the changing role of councils in education, covering early years to adulthood and post-16 learning, giving a comprehensive picture of the changing education landscape. It will focus on the challenges and opportunities for councils, offering delegates the opportunity to discuss, learn and share best practice.
The Local Government Association's annual conference, which will be held in Birmingham this year, is the biggest event in the local government calendar. It also is one of the biggest political conferences of the year regularly attracting over 1,100 delegates. A list of those sessions specifically targeted at the Children and Young People programme area is below, but this only tells part of the story. Come along to conference and take part in your choice of over 40 plenary, workshop and fringe sessions; network with over 90 exhibitors and share experiences with key players across the local government sector.
The following sessions may of interest to colleagues working on Children & Young People programmes:
Wednesday 27 June - 11.15-12.15
W17 - Children in care: challenges and innovation
Looking after other people's children is one of the most important things councils do and corporate parenting is a responsibility for all elected members. It is also a service facing ever-rising demand pressures. This session will provide an opportunity to hear from Government about its plans to reform the care system; from local government about innovative approaches being taken to tackling the challenges; and the perspective from a leading charity in this field. Speakers: Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Vice Chair, LGA David Holmes, Chief Executive, British Association of Adoption and Fostering Government speaker to be confirmed.
Thursday 28 June - 9.15-10.15
W21- Troubled families sub-plenary
Speaker: Louise Casey CB, Director General Troubled Families programme, Department of Communities and Local Government.
Thursday 28 June - 13.00-13.45
F1 -The council role in education: learning from the LGA/DfE action research
ISOS Researchers have been working with nine councils since January to look at the real issues facing councils in developing the 'strong strategic role in education' promised in the schools White Paper.
The final report of the DfE/LGA action research into the council role in education will be launched at this session. Delegates will have the opportunity to be the first to hear its conclusions and there will be an opportunity to engage in debate.
F5 - Taking the lead: councils improving adults and children's services
Councils are judged on how well they serve their resident not on how many boxes they can tick for government departments. Real improvement in services comes from councils being self-aware and willing to tackle their own difficulties. Both adults and children's services have programmes to support self improvement: councils owning problems and dealing with them with the help of their peers. This workshop will showcase two improvement stories from councils and explore why and how self improvement works.
As you may be aware, the Communities of Practice (CoP) platform will be closed at the end of March 2012, and will be replaced by the new 'Knowledge Hub'.
The Council Role in Education CoP will be moving on Thursday 15 March, to the Knowledge Hub. From Friday 16 March, the Council Role in Education group on the Knowledge Hub will support councils in addressing key issues, opportunities and challenges that local areas may face in developing new relationships between councils and schools.
Once migration is complete you will be able to access the Knowledge Hub using your usual CoP username and password. The link will take you straight to your home membership area where you can access your group (formerly 'community') by clicking on 'My Groups'.
Meanwhile, the CoP will remain in place until the end of March in a read-only format.
If you have any problems logging into the Knowledge Hub after the migration has taken place, please contact the Knowledge Hub team: email@example.com.
If you have any other questions about the Council Role in Education CoP or Knowledge Hub, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 12 March, the National Youth Agency (NYA), working on behalf of the LGA and in partnership with DfE and the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS), launched the Supporting Services for Young People group on the Knowledge Hub. The community is a free learning environment where people with an interest in the youth sector, not just those in local government, can discuss issues, access resources and take part in discussions.
All members will be able to fully interact with the community posting questions, seek help from others, showcase their own research and case studies and find the latest information that they need. Over the coming year the community will host a number of 'Hot Seats' from key figures in our sector where you will be able to ask questions and join the discussions.
The community will also be the online place to be if you want to find out about Positive for Youth, the Government's youth strategy or contribute to the debate about DfE's consultation on its draft statutory guidance for local authorities on services and activities to improve young people's well-being.
The Children's Improvement Board (CIB) has contracted the Commissioning Support Programme (CSP) to develop training materials for commissioners of services for young people, which will available to download through the Knowledge Hub.
As well as the training materials, a free, three-day 'train-the-trainer' event will take place on 24-26 April in Birmingham. Places are available to local authorities and partner organisations and the aim is to equip local trainers with the skills and knowledge to be able to deliver commissioning training for their local commissioners.
On 27 February, Ofsted announced that councils will only get an "outstanding" rating for adoption in future if they place children within 12 months. Cllr David Simmonds, CYP Chairman, was interviewed by BBC Radio 5 Live and was quoted on BBC Online stressing that councils were keen to reduce the wait but the issue could not be tackled through a "one-size fits-all approach".
On 9 March, the LGA responded to the Prime Minister's announcement of legislative proposals to speed up the adoption process. Cllr Simmonds said "Councils are pleased that the Government wants to help improve the adoption process. They take their responsibilities towards children in their care extremely seriously and want to work with Government to improve the varying performance levels across the country. We hope that the new adoption action plan will finally remove the barriers that obstruct decisions including significant delays in the family courts."
The LGA also stressed that the adoption system needs more loving parents with stable homes, not more bureaucracy, ahead of the Government's launch of its new Adoption Action Plan.
On 14 March, the LGA released a press release on behalf of council leaders, stating that adoption score cards won't help councils find stable loving homes for children and could put off prospective adopters. Cllr Simmonds was interviewed on the Today Programme, alongside the Children's Minister Tim Loughton and also appeared on Sky News and BBC News 24, representing the LGA. The LGA's stance was also widely reporting in the print and online media, including the Telegraph, Independent and BBC Online.
On 27 February, the Daycare Trust released their annual child care cost survey. Cllr Simmonds appeared on Sky News explaining that councils are doing all they can to run affordable, high quality childcare services in the face of grant cuts from government.
The LGA also featured on BBC Online's coverage.
A growing number of primary schools will have 1,000 pupils or more as extra classes are added to cope with a rapid increase in the birth rate. Official figures show that an extra 455,000 places will be needed in England by 2015. There are concerns that the political commitment and investment in free schools is at odds with the strategic need to meet the demand for places elsewhere. On 14 March, Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said councils would "step up to the plate" to ensure enough primary places. He went on to add that much bigger primary schools are now going to become "less unusual".
30 January 2013