Annual inspections promised for children's residential providers in Lancashire

Children's residential care providers will assessed every year under mew plans.
Children's residential care providers will assessed every year under mew plans.

All providers of children’s residential placements in Lancashire will soon be subject to annual inspections to assess the “adequacy” of the service offered, a committee of councillors has heard.

A meeting of Lancashire County Council’s audit, risk and governance committee was told that the external organisations which offer residential care to some of the county’s most vulnerable youngsters are currently assessed only in response to specific issues.

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But papers presented to members reveal a “proactive” approach will now be adopted following the appointment of an officer to carry out routine assessments.

“The [council] acknowledges that the number of inspections is not yet sufficient,” a report to the committee noted.

However, members heard that any concerns raised about providers are “logged and investigated - and action has been taken where necessary”.

County hall also receives reports from providers when a child’s placement comes to an end and these will now be used to support the new annual inspection regime.

So-called ‘looked-after children’ in Lancashire are housed either directly by the county council or independent organisations. Currently, 170 youngsters are in the care of third party providers at a cost of £41m per year.

Work is also underway to reduce the cost of commissioning residential placements for children. Local reviews of the service are taking place across the county and the team responsible for East Lancashire has identified potential savings of almost £3m.

An internal audit report which assesses the risks to the authority caused by its external contracts gave “moderate assurance” on the subject of external placement providers. That means that control exercised by the council is adequate, but action is required to enhance its effectiveness.

Two other contract arrangements which were recently audited were given the same rating - the crisis support service which aims to prevent people being hospitalised and the reablement service which helps them to recover from an illness which has caused them to become incapacitated.

The committee heard that the crisis support unit, which also works to avoid premature admissions to residential care, does not always receive reports from external providers about the outcomes in individual cases.

As a result, the £1.5m arrangement is “missing key intelligence that would allow officers to determine the overall effectiveness of crisis provision”, a report to members notes.

Meanwhile, the hours provided by two out of the three organisations offering the reablement service fell short of the number which had actually been commissioned by county hall. A review of the £3.2m contract will now take place to see whether unused hours should be carried forward into future years.

However, the county’s sexual health service received the top audit rating - “substantial reassurance” - for its work testing and treating sexually transmitted diseases.