No “quick fixes” for children and youth services

County Hall in Beverley.

Officers told advisers to the Child and Youth Oversight and Review Committee they were not “complacent” about the changes required after inspectors called for urgent improvements.

Eoin Rush, director of children, families and schools for the East Riding Council, told the committee that the previous EHaSH “one-stop-shop” system remained “squeaky” under thousands of references.

The officer said the system has since been scrapped and overhauled from the ground up. But he added that more pressure was expected as children return to county schools after months of absence during the coronavirus pandemic.

The hearing was part of an ongoing review of services following Ofsted’s inspection in December 2019.

Ofsted found weaknesses including insufficient resources, poor quality referrals, consent not demonstrated properly, lack of management oversight and delays in responding to those at risk.

Advisors were told that although data appeared to show East Riding services were operating at a similar level to comparable local authorities, EHaSH was failing to reach children outside the system.

Mr Rush said the result of Ofsted’s inspection had been “deeply disappointing”.

But he added that simply fixing the “holes in the road” would not strengthen the system in the long run.

The officer said: “What appear to be simple decisions about this are actually more complex.

“In our organization, we took and felt that if people are worried about children, they should tell us.

“EHaSH was set up as a one stop shop where we could understand what children needed in one place.

“But this extended offering started to cause problems and trying to sift through the information got really tough.

“The inspectors did not find the children to be unsafe. But there were rampant and growing issues which, taken together, led to the Ofsted rating. “

Board improvement partner Dot Evans said staff had been “overwhelmed” by the number of referrals.

A board report showed that seven staff at EHaSH’s “front door”, its first point of contact, had handled 15,000 contacts when Ofsted’s inspection took place.

The report found that 8,200 of them, or 55%, did not require an EHaSH response or were referred elsewhere.

In total, 3,000 contacts out of the 6,800 who required an EHaSH intervention were taken care of by social workers.

Among those in care, 28% of referrals came from schools and other educational institutions, 21% came from the police and 13% came from individuals.

Ms Evans said: “These numbers exceeded our expectations. This had an impact on the availability of the team which was simply overwhelmed. Ofsted discovered that there was a lack of management control over referrals entering through the front door.

Penny Donno, the current head of the Council for the Support and Protection of Children and Youth, said the coronavirus had not stopped officers from moving forward with improvements.

Ms Donno said the council continued to suffer from a shortage of skilled social workers, a trend that is occurring nationwide.

Jo Gomerson, head of the council’s Safeguard and Partnership Center that replaced EHaSH, said staff should be delivering the right answers to the right people in the future.

Ms Gomerson said: “We have a police officer and health nurses in the Hub, which means we have immediate contact with two key agencies.

“It is essential that staff feel supported and heard, we have to be open and honest.

“It’s also important that when people pick up the phone they feel like they’re getting an answer.

“Our system now allows those who ring for an urgent matter to skip the line. “

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