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Agenda item

Making Children Visible Scrutiny Review - Witness Evidence


The Committee received a presentation from Curtis Ashton, Director of Young Islington, on vulnerable adolescents within the borough. Key points highlighted included detail on:

·       Commissioned Services in 2021-22; there were a number of specialist services that provide services to vulnerable young people during this time, such as Abianda, St Giles Trust, WIPERS and Chance UK

o   Chance UK focus on an intervention and prevention service, provide mentoring to primary school children who are experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties, who are at risk of educational exclusion, anti-social behaviour and/or criminal behaviour in adolescence and adult early life.

o   Chance UK supported 51 children and families in 2021-22 and delivered 68 1:1 parent-carer sessions to completion. Good outcomes received from their work, with 100% of parents showing increased confidence and skills in parenting.

·       Abianda’s Star Project provides a specialist one-to-one service for young women aged 11-24 affected by gangs, providing support to develop healthy relationships and prevent violence, sexual violence and exploitation.

o   The project delivered 1:1 support to 25 gang affected young women and 63 young women engaged in group work; group work in two Islington secondary schools and two practice sessions. Outcomes included 71% of participants feeling able to keep themselves safe after the intervention ended and 100% feeling their knowledge of sexual violence and exploitation had improved.

o   Islington were one of the few local authorities to obtain additional funding from the Home Office pertaining to interventions for young women that will ensure that Islington can continue to work with Abianda for a further three years.

·       St Giles Trust supports people facing severe disadvantage into sustainable employment, housing and other appropriate support.

o   In 2021-22, 190 people were referred and 184 young people were successfully engaged. 324 successful outcomes were achieved for young people with 90% supported around Education, Training & Employment, 80% achieving a positive outcome in health and wellbeing, 90% supported with interventions around offending behaviour and 70% supported around family and social life matters.

·       Wipers Mentoring Service supports young people aged 11-17, and helps provide a bridge to education, training, and employment.

o   In 2021-22 they delivered mentoring and 1:1 sessions to 39 vulnerable young people, with over 390 hours of mentoring support provided. Support was extended from 3 to 6 months to ensure vulnerable young people’s needs are met. 90% of participants received a minimum of 24 hours support, 60% presented an increase in their ‘hopes, dreams and aspirations’, 70% increase in ‘Education & Work’, 55% received extended monitoring supported and 100% made significant progress across all areas of the programme.

·       MOPAC Disproportionality Crime Fund – Islington as the lead borough of a consortium consisting of Camden, Hackney and Haringey Councils – has been allocated £250,000 to run a Disproportionality Leadership Project.  The funding itself has come from a partnership of MOPAC (The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime), London Councils and the Youth Justice Board – with the purpose of tackling systemic issues that contribute to disproportionality in the youth justice system at a local level.

o   In Islington, mixed-heritage children were recorded to have higher custody rates than most other groups of children from 2017-18 to 2020-21, and across all boroughs of the consortium, the rates of school exclusion for black and mixed-heritage children were disproportionately high. Additionally, while the serious of offences committed by children of black heritage in Islington was lower than that committed by children of White or Asian heritage, they were more likely to be remanded in custody.

o   The Disproportionality Leadership Project will be a year in duration and is already taking referrals across the four boroughs. Participants will also be interviewed by researchers from City & Essex Universities about their experience and what can be done to help them. It will be delivered over a minimum of 12 weeks – actual time will vary depending on the needs of the young person although the recommendation is approximately six months – and mentoring support will include ETE (education, training and employment) opportunities via WIPERS’ community and corporate partners.

o   The Chair requested that an update on this programme be submitted to the Committee in September 2023.

·       Islington will be further rolling out the Violence Reduction Unit Parental Support Champion Network as funding has been received to continue this work for the next few years. Securing good education training and employment outcomes for the participants is a priority. A number of parent champions from ethnic backgrounds were supported to train other parents about how to keep their children safe.

·       The Parent Champion Network Project is commissioned to Minority Matters in Islington. It offers self-development classes and awareness engagement workshops for the Somali community delivered in partnership with Islington Council and Al-Abrar Foundation.

o   The service is working with community wealth building to support parent champions in long term. Keeping these parents in employment raises the outcomes for the family overall. The Executive Member for Children, Young People & Families also noted that the service is collaborating with Minority Matters to ensure that participating parents have the confidence to overcome the barriers that might be preventing them from accessing education and/or employment.

o   The service is also working to engage more fathers in the programme.

·       The Youth Counselling, Substance Misuse and Alcohol Service was created from two Council services to provide a holistic health service for young people that will allow for closer partnership work between the two interventions provided (Youth Counselling and Substance Misuse). Both services also offer informal consultation for colleagues, other professions, and parent/carers

o   Total of young people seen by YCSMAS = 161

o   TYS Youth Counselling referrals =138 (of which 99 became young people seen)

o   IYPDAS referrals = 92 (of which 64 became actual number of young people seen)

·       The Youth Justice Service (YJS)

o   In July 2022 the number of YJS young people engaged in Employment, Training and/or Education was 72% (target is 65%). The target of 65% was deemed to be a realistic measure of success, given that some of the young people engaged are extremely vulnerable and there is much difficulty in keeping them in education and employment.

·       Targeted Youth Support (TYS) work with young people aged 10 to 21 years old (12 – 21 for Youth Counselling), who require support to enable them to make informed choices and decisions and maintain positive pathways. An independent review of the work TYS delivers with schools took place in 2021. The inquiry and reporting framework used the SOAR model

o   TYS’ complements that of Islington Child and Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and the service also work closely with the local clinical commissioning group (The NHS North Central London CCG), who are also a contributor of funding.

o   There is a proactive approach to ensure that there aren’t large numbers waiting for these interventions, and the service is working with partners to ensure that children who are in need of support are able to access this as soon as possible.


In response to a member’s concern about intervention and legacy long-term, and the availability of formal/informal alumni groups to participants of these programmes, the Director of Young Islington assured the committee that there was a step-down process in place for all of the programmes discussed. Long-term evaluation is something that would be discussed with all commissioned groups and they each would inform their supported young people that a universal offer is available more broadly through the Council.


In response to a member’s concern that families from Turkish / Kurdish backgrounds may not be aware of the clear pathways to referrals, and the assurances sought that agencies such as the Police are also aware of the clear pathways to referral, the presenting officer informed the committee that each of the services have been briefed on this.


Laura Eden, Director of Safeguarding and Family Support, delivered a presentation to the Committee – which had been circulated prior to the meeting – about Children with a Social Worker.


The committee was informed that there had been lots of research conducted on children in need / children with protection plan, in contrast to before when the focus was greater on looked-after-children and attainment.  Research showed that by the time children reached Key Stage Four, there was a real difference in the wellbeing of children who were known to social services and those who weren’t, regardless of attainment or attendance.


Some of the key points raised in the presentation included.

·       £100,000 in funding had been received from the DFE which funds the Deputy Head and a virtual teacher for the virtual school. Islington were at an advantage because of a previous, successful bid to the DfE to trial this programme (virtual school), which then became national guidance shortly after.

·       There are currently 800 Children in Need and 150 on a Child Protection Plan

·       There are currently 351 Children Looked After.

·       The average attendance for Children Looked After in 2021-22 was 88.1%. 21% were persistently absent from school.

·       61% of care experienced-young people were in Employment, Education or Training (EET), which is among the highest in the country. top quartile for care experienced young people in EET in country. The presenting officer attributed the high jump in success rates to commitment from Councillors, Officers and lifelong corporate parenting.

·       Some of the factors that can affect attainment include trauma. Children who achieved better were more likely to be in stable foster-care placements. Girls outachieved boys, but progress was being made on narrowing the gap.

·       Islington looked-after children fared better when there was a trauma informed approach to their care. Additionally, schools and colleges who adopted trauma informed approaches were shown to produce better outcomes.

·       Islington looked-after children who attended schools within the borough performed better than those who attended out of borough schools.

·       Islington wanted to ensure that care-experienced young people were able to have adult conversations, such as encouragement and assistance with job applications.

·       The contributing circumstances behind the NEET (Not In Employment, Education or Training) cohort include mental health, offending issues, and/or lack of engagement.

·       Islington’s offer was well-received in OFSTED focus visits.


A member of the Committee expressed concerned that, particularly within some ethnic minority communities, misogyny and domestic violence could be masked from the wider community at large, which can greatly impact these children and as such, the member wanted to know if procedures were in place to pick up on this. In response, the Committee was informed that all staff, including early-help and social workers, were trained to spot signs of abuse and that schools had a designated safeguarding lead. It was acknowledged that some families can be both invested in a child’s education and masking signs of abuse simultaneously, however it was stated that signs of abuse would still be identifiable by staff and that they were trained to handle this appropriately.


A member raised concern regarding the statistic that only 68% of young people with a social worker received any qualification at all, insisting that the target could be higher and that data on this cohort attempting to enter higher education would be useful to see. The response to the member was that some children in need of a social worker would have experienced traumatic situations that can affect their development and that some children have poor experiences of education due to neglectful situations at home. The response also noted that some children may not always be present at school because there is no one is to take them there, and that some children enter care as teenagers, by which time prior years of poor experiences would have taken its toll. However, the response also noted that a lot of the children in need do attain a qualification but that it takes them longer to experience those forms of education.


The Director of Safeguarding and Family Support stated that Islington aimed to protect young people’s experiences of childhood. In part this involved identifying safeguarding issues at an early stage and working to ensure that children’s emotional capacity was not taken up by adult issues. The Director of Safeguarding and Family Support also noted that the service was facilitating opportunities to bring young people into employment at Islington Council through channels such as internships, education and work experience to name a few. The intention was to set an example for partners to follow. A recent advertisement from Thames Water advert had helped raise visibility of children in care, leading to a spike in such opportunities being offered to care experienced young people more broadly.


The Committee received a third presentation on Children Missing in Education by Sarah Callaghan, Director of Learning and Achievement.

The Director of Learning and Achievement informed the Committee that the National research identified some patterns in terms of those children who are disproportionately represented in not accessing formal education.


The Children’s Commissioner’s report investigated off-rolling. It identified in the period 2015-19 that there was a 50% increase in children being electively home educated. The Committee were told that it is a parental right to make that choice, however there is some disproportionality in the children being homed educated, particularly SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disability) children. The research also identified a practice where some schools were actively encouraging families to take up home education.


The Director of Learning and Achievement noted that this wasn’t to say that there wasn’t excellent practice in terms of home education but that in the context of the current scrutiny review into ‘Making Children Visible’, this one of the ways in which children can fall off the authority’s radar. The report also picked up on exclusion, whereby some children had been off-rolled or encouraged to leave mainstream education as they were at risk of being excluded. In Islington, it was known that this was used as a last resort, however there is practice nationally that has identified some groups of children as being overrepresented. In Islington’s own data, 39% of exclusions had some form of educational support / health and social care plan attached, and BAME children were overrepresented in exclusions.


The Committee was informed that permanent exclusions was not a particular issue in Islington – 73% were within three secondary schools, but if those were to be removed then Islington would be in the top quartile for performance nationally. What the borough does have an issue with is recurrent patterns of fixed-term exclusions. Schools can choose to have fixed-term suspensions of up to 45 days in that academic year.


The Committee was told that the service is working with the City of London Multi-Academy Trust to establish a better working relationship with them and have arranged to meet with the Trust’s new Chief Executive about shared priorities. Additionally, academies have different levels of autonomy and the Council needed to build stronger relationships with them.


Another issue highlighted was “unexplained pupil exits” – where children may have moved schools for reasons that could include better OFSTED ratings – the process of which could also serve to make children less visible to the local authority.


Regarding Elective Home Education (EHE), the Committee were informed that the role of the local authority was only to see that students were accessing education, but that collaborative working can overcome this. As a last resort and/or if other issues were present, the local authority can use safeguarding legislation to intervene.


The withdrawn Schools Bill would have created in effect a register of “ghost children” – such as children not in school – and would have increased powers of the local authority to identify and have greater visibility of those groups of children.


The Committee was also informed that the service was strengthening monitoring of Islington’s home-educated children through a new, dedicated post that would work with parents where appropriate to re-engage them with formal education.


The Committee was informed that the local authority was visited by the Department for Education (DfE) just before Christmas 2022. This was concerning new guidance to be implemented by September 2023 regarding exclusions. The local authority would be required to have half-termly meetings with schools to challenge their levels of attendance.


The Committee was also told that a forum had been established through which Islington have been able to secure agreement from the participating school leaders to share data on exclusions.


In response to a member’s question as to whether officers were enquiring with the children themselves to establish solutions regarding their absence from school rather than just corresponding with parents, the Director of Learning and Achievement referred to the Education Plan which was informed by direct discussions with groups of young people who were not in education or had been excluded. Additionally, a highlight that came out of national research was the branding of alternative provision for those at risk of exclusion, which has been adopted – in dialogue, the borough’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) is never referred to by that name, but by the facility’s name instead. This is to not stigmatise its’ attendees, particularly given its purpose is to enable students to return to school.


Responding to a member’s question regarding creating an inclusive environment in the borough’s schools, the Director of Learning and Achievement stated innovative work with several of the borough’s schools, was being undertaken to create a supportive environment. This involved engaging with pupils to understand their views on what created an inclusive culture, and also having some primary school children survey their peers about what they feel helped them feel included and what things helped create belonging.