Education and SEND highlighted in council’s annual priorities report for children

By Stewart Carr - Local Democracy Reporter

13th May 2024 | Local News

Hertfordshire’s County Council has discussed this year’s annual priorities in its plan for children and young people (image via pixabay)
Hertfordshire’s County Council has discussed this year’s annual priorities in its plan for children and young people (image via pixabay)

Hertfordshire's County Council has discussed this year's annual priorities in its plan for children and young people – with a renewed focus on education and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).

Ruth Fennemore, service manager for performance and development, outlined the report in a meeting of the council's children, young people and families executive committee on Friday, May 10.

Addressing the committee, Ms Fennemore said: "In 2021, we developed an ambitious five years plan for all children and young people in Hertfordshire.

"It's useful for the panel to note that the plan does cover the whole of children's services."

The plan is divided into four elements – Vision, Long Term Strategic Ambition, Annual Performance Report and Annual Priorities – the latter of which was item on the agenda.

Ms Fennemore revealed that a video of the plan is available on the council's website for families of young people, in an effort to make it more accessible.

The key changes of the 2024-2025 annual priorities have been cited as 'updating young people's priorities', 'innovation to support children in care' – with a focus on recruiting foster carers, 'best start in life', 'building life chances' and 'supporting children with SEND'.

Ms Fennemore said: "The vision that was co-produced with our stakeholders was to support Hertfordshire's children and young people to be happy, to be loved and thrive in their families and communities and that's at the heart of the plan.

"To develop the priorities this year, we did quite a lot of engagement work again with our stakeholder groups. Most importantly, we wanted to speak to young people and we had a specific session with our children in care council.

"First we updated the young people's priorities and we put those on the front cover of the plan so it's front and centre that we're really listening to what young people feel is most important for us to be doing.

"What they said to us this year was that they really wanted us to focus on education, and our children in care council and council leavers group also talked a lot about the importance of focusing on support for care leavers, particularly with their education but also in the way that we communicate with them to make sure that they're aware of the services that we're providing."

Cllr Fiona Thomson, committee chair, reminded members that the Annual Performance Report will come out in November and would allow councillors to scrutinise the success of the plan.

She said: "What struck me is the revised priorities has really been on the back of engaging with children and young people and listening to children's voices. In particular, our care leavers, our children in care council, and really what's most important to them and whether it's education, additional support or communication.

"I'm very pleased to see the additional focus on SEND which is critically important."

Cllr Steve Jarvis praised the "positive things" in the report, but added that he found its structure confusing.

He said: "There's quite a lot of emphasis on looked-after children and SEND for good reasons but there appeared to be a lot less in terms of what we're hoping to achieve from early help.

"Particularly, in what we're hoping to achieve in terms of changes to the family hubs and also the changes in services for young people.

"We all agree that early help is the approach both to deliver better outcomes for children and also to deliver those outcomes at less cost to the council, and we badly need to do both of those things."

Cllr Thomson responded: "With regards to the early years help, as you know, we're in a period of transition with the new contact for family centres etc so I would expect that we will have a further update later in the year just to cover exactly that."

Jo Fisher, executive director of children's services, thanked Cllr Jarvis for his "really helpful feedback".

She said: "In terms of some of our priorities to support all young people to thrive and achieve, it is our services for young people who are really driving the support for children not in school, particularly how we've reconfigures our services for young people and also supporting young people with their skills and employment, so that's embedded in that.

"What we haven't done is say in this plan how we're going to do it, we've said what we're going to do, what good will look like and how we'll know we've got there.

"Services for young people and reconfiguration of services for young people are absolutely at the forefront of driving that forward."

Several councillors noted the percentages of respondents who had responded to surveys, and asked whether participation was an issue.

Cllr Anthony Rowlands questioned why mental health wasn't flagged as a priority.

Ms Fisher responded: "I think you're absolutely right that since the pandemic, it's become a much bigger issue for us and we need to reflect that more strongly in our plan moving forward.

"I think addressing early on children's emotional wellbeing and mental health whether that's in school, at home or elsewhere is absolutely critical.

"There's a huge amount of work as you quite rightly reference happening out there in our local communities and in our local schools through the mental health support teams and other work and we've got a continuum of support in place, however under our plan I can see that we've got a couple fo references to mental health so it's not maybe as strongly represented in our plan as it could be."

Cllr Thomson closed the item by saying it had been a "very helpful discussion and debate" about the strategic priorities for the coming year.

     

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