Council Officers are proposing a reconfiguration of the service provision for Derby City Council Children’s Homes. This will be presented to Cabinet today and was subject to a cross-Party Executive Scrutiny Board meeting, yesterday evening. The net effect of the plan is to reduce the number of bed spaces provided by the Council. This was presented by Suanne Lim ( Service Director, Children’s Integrated Services) and Andy Smith (Strategic Director , People Services).
The proposals were subject to 50 minutes of questioning. The Senior Officers were unable to provide a simple statement on the current bed provision, occupancy levels, and the impact of a planned refurbishment. The document that will be presented to Cabinet today only serves to further confuse the matter.
There are around 40 children in the City that need residential care provision. This can be due to issues with their family setting, challenging emotional/offending behaviour, learning difficulties, self-harm, or sexual exploitation. The care is provided in either , Derby City Council homes (~50%), or ones that are privately run (~50%). The cost of private provision is ~ £5,500 per child, per week, totalling just over £6.3m per year.
The bed space in the Council homes is under-utilised due to the nature and complexity of some of the challenging behaviours; for example, for safety reasons, only 2 children with the more extreme needs can be accommodated in a 5 bedded house. A reconfiguration to improve the usage of the homes based on the complexity of needs is a sensible plan.
A review of the OFSTED reports confirms the following position.
Executive Scrutiny Board discussion
The Cabinet report states that:
“The Council currently has five operating residential children’s homes providing up to twenty-five beds for mainstream and disabled young people”
The Council is registered, in the OFSTED reports that were issued recently, for 27 children ( see chart above)
“…and one further six bedded home remains scheduled for refurbishment.”
This is confirmed in the OFSTED report SC036243 ( see above).
This implies that the total planned capacity is 33.
In Cllr Russell’s questioning it was her impression that the capacity would have been 31 based on the original plans ( 25 + 6?). Suanne Lim, stated that the original planned capacity, with the refurbishment, would only be 24.
Ms Lim was then asked the question as how many beds would be left, after the proposed reconfiguration. The proposal specifically states that the 6 bedded home, currently closed and planned for refubishment, would not take place, in favour of refurbishing another of the homes.
Her answer was 21.
The proposal is to have 2 Hubs:
Hub 1 will develop a complex needs provision with accommodation of up to eight beds across three homes. Hub 2 will retain the existing mainstream and disabled needs provision with accommodation of up to sixteen beds cross three homes
In summary ; 24 beds ( not 21) across 6 homes, albeit that the 6th home is not being refurbished.
The question was asked by Cllr Graves as to how many of the current 24 beds ( per Suanne Lim) were actually occupied. She could not answer, despite this being a key underlying rationale for the reconfiguration. She guessed at around 20.
Given that the bed spaces will be around 21 after the proposal ( or 24) , and the occupancy is currently around 20, then the opportunity to save money by bringing “in-house” children from private homes is negligible. Ms Lim suggested that there was scope for 6-8 at some point.
Executive Scrutiny Board recommendations to Cabinet
The recommendations made by Cllr Russell, and Cllr Eldret were that the proposal should not reduce the number of beds. The decision on the proposal should be deferred until after the consultation and Equalities Impact Assessment had been completed, at which point it should be presented to the Cabinet for approval. These were passed, subject to agreement with the Cabinet.
The presentation of this proposal was incompetent and only further reinforces the criticisms and concerns by the Auditors regarding “informed decision making”.
It is unacceptable that a clear statement could not be made about the number of beds before/after, and occupancy levels, which could bear scrutiny and which was consistent with the OFSTED reports. It raises questions over the thoroughness of the analysis.
In the last Council’s “50 Pledges” there was a commitment that all Children’s Homes would be “Good or Outstanding” [ previous article – Cllr Bolton “economical with truth” over failed Pledge on Children’s Homes ] Since the most recent reports, 2 of the 5 active Homes subject to this report have been declared as sub-standard.
Quite why the Senior Officers made this so complicated is concerning. According to data provided in the meeting there would be a reduction of 3 beds following the proposal, based on documented facts it’s a reduction of 9. Which is it?
Why was such a flawed plan considered suitable for presentation to the Cabinet? Why could the Officers not provide simple numeric explanations to legitimate questions? How can the Cabinet make a decision on this?