Agenda item

The independent review of children’s social care (Macalister Review) – Implementation Update

To receive a report from the Director of Children and families setting out an update on implementation of the Macilster Review in Leeds.


The report of the Director of Children and Families provided a summary of the national Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister, and the government response to this review and implementation of its recommendations – the ‘Stable Homes Built on Love’ strategy and consultation. This item also considered the work in Leeds to keep and bring Leeds children closer to home, both through preventative and edge of care support and the approach to placements and the residential estate for children looked after.


The following were in attendance for this item:

  • Farrah Khan, Chief Officer Family Help
  • Clare Slaney, Head of Service Area Social Care
  • Councillor Pryor Executive Member for Economy, Culture and Education
  • Councillor Venner, Executive Member for Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships


Councillor Venner, Executive Member for Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships introduced the report setting out the similarities in approach between existing practice in Leeds and the approach recommended in the Independent Review, a key theme being the moving of resource from crisis prevention into early intervention and prevention which has been a key focus in practice in Leeds for a number of years.


It was noted that Leeds is not a pathfinder local authority area which are being established as part of the government response to the independent review, and it was felt that this was to encourage local authorities who had not previously been involved in that type of activity, or who had been assessed as outstanding via Ofsted inspection, to be identified as pathfinders and to develop best practice approaches.


In terms of the Leeds response to the recommendations in the MacAlister Review, Cllr Venner highlighted the ongoing expansion of Early Help Hubs from three to seven, increases in the number of children’s homes to address issues around sufficiency of placements and edge of care work in Leeds is already active in terms of keeping children close to home and in their families where it is safe to do so. Kinship care is already a key element of the services offered by Leeds with many more placements in kinship care than the national average and Leeds has previously been highlighted by an All-Parliamentary Group in terms of good practice in relation to kinship care.


The Chair added that when looking through the report it is clear that Leeds is an exemplar in terms of practice that is already embedded in how the city works.


Responding to question from members the following discussion points were raised:

  • On recruitment and retention there are significant workforce pressures in social work currently. Leeds has already established a newly qualified social work programme over a two-year period which includes well-being support and resilience. However, recruitment remains a problem with less people coming into the profession and more social workers leaving. Leeds does offer an apprenticeship programme with 13 unqualified staff working towards qualification through apprenticeships and also the ‘step up’ programme which supports recruitment to the profession.
  • In terms of recent recruitment and existing vacancies, there are 71.5 vacancies across the 500 FTE social work posts (14%), this is offset by 26.5 agency social workers and a programme of additional social work assistants, unqualified staff used to support social work teams where there are vacancies and also additional advanced practitioners used to increase capacity. A further recruitment effort has seen 13 internationally recruited social workers with provision for a total of 20 to be recruited from that source.
  • In response to a question around targeted early help and the concept of family help, it was explained that this was about reducing barriers to early help meaning that support can be available without a social work referral. Family help is aimed at reducing the steps that families have to go through to get support and retaining staffing consistency in the people that children and families deal with. Furthermore, family help means family help, in that it is available to the whole family and enhances consistency in support.
  • On placement sufficiency board members were keen to understand more about smaller group children’s homes and any recruitment challenges that are faced given some of the complex needs and challenging behaviours that can be displayed in those settings. Residential staff now receive enhanced therapeutic training designed to meet additional needs and support requirements. Recent recruitment has also factored in the support available through the therapeutic social work team, which has led to a successful recruitment campaign into the residential support team.
  • In relation to children’s homes, and children looked after generally the challenges around transition are particularly difficult to manage and can lead to problems around transition planning. However, the overall aim in Leeds is to plan for transition early and have early discussions with colleagues in adult services and in health services to ensure that support is in place and that transition between children’s and adult services is as smooth as possible from a commissioning point of view.
  • The Board were keen to understand the use of the third sector in residential settings in Leeds. Children are placed in third sector settings and it is often used to increase capacity and retain children from Leeds in Leeds based settings. The private sector is also used and more funding is spent in that sector, compared to the third sector, with a key aim of keeping children and young people closer to home. These setting are monitored and visited regularly to determine how care is provided and this is supported by an independent reviewing officer who reviews care plans to ensure placements are appropriate. This also applies to children and young people who are placed outside of Leeds.
  • The Board expressed concerns about profit margins in the private sector both through Independent Foster Agencies and private residential care homes and also the funding available to foster carers through the private sector where often a foster carer is able to receive a higher allowance for their work. To try to address this an additional £2m was put into the budget for 2023/24 to provide an uplift in foster carer pay which has led to Leeds being the top paying authority regionally for some age ranges. In addition, foster carers are supported by a comprehensive package of support which includes the ‘mockingbird hubs’ where more experienced foster carers support a network of foster carers in their roles.
  • Following further questions from members details were provided on the frequency of visits made to children and young people placed in the private sector, which is a minimum of one per month often supported by advocates and/or independent reviewing officers. There can be logistical issues in terms of staff time having to travel further to see the child in care when they live outside Leeds. Overall visits are regular, but they can vary depending on the needs of the child in care.
  • Discussion also covered private homes established in Leeds which are used for external placements by other local authorities and the difficulties in identifying these homes when they are established, with the planning process often the only means by which new homes of this nature can be identified. Once children are placed in these private sector homes the Council is informed of this and becomes aware of the facility but during set up of a new home of this nature it is not always the case that the ‘home’ local authority is aware. However, in Leeds this has been reviewed and there are now links between planning and children and families to deal with these types of children’s homes when they are being established. Private sector providers are subject to the same inspection process through Ofsted who regulate children’s homes and where any concerns about care arrangements can be picked up. Children’s homes Ofsted inspections take place annually along with other regulation 44 visits.
  • On SEND needs which can often be difficult to meet capacity has recently been expanded to increase capacity in the city for complex needs and will facilitate more children returning to care arrangements in Leeds as opposed to being placed externally which will have benefits to the families as well as financially to the city.
  • The Board were reassured that the Council is looking into increasing diversity within the foster carer cohort in the city to diversify the workforce in line with the Council’s EDI ambitions and to enhance the range of settings available to those requiring care, this is an active workstream currently.



a)  To note the update given in this report and the work underway to implement the recommendations of the Josh MacAlister review.



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