Scrutiny Delivers a Clear Message about Corporate Parenting

Councillors in Swansea have shown their commitment to corporate parenting as a result of a report produced by the Child & Family Services Overview & Scrutiny Board. The scrutiny report (PDF), called ‘Care to Help?’ turned the spotlight on the role of councillors as corporate parents and its findings were recently accepted by Cabinet and Council.

 Why This Matters?

The review itself had a very simple and specific question: ‘How Can We Be Better Corporate Parents?’ The backdrop to this review was the dramatic rise in looked after children numbers across Wales over the last 12 years, almost 50%, together with a significant drop in adoption. In Swansea at the end of February 2011 there were 578 children in care – an increase of about 25% since April 2009. The Board quickly recognised that effective corporate parenting was vital to the welfare and life chances of the children in the care of the Authority.

 Evidence Gathered

A Task & Finish Group was formed to explore how councillors could best meet this responsibility in practice, suspecting that many may not fully understand their role. The Group held nine separate evidence gathering sessions over a period of three months before analysing the evidence gathered to produce a clear definition of corporate parenting that would help councillors, here and elsewhere, to better understand their role.  During this work the Board engaged with staff and foster carers and carried out a survey of all councillors. Findings from a national conference on corporate parenting were also used.

 What Does the Report Say?

 The report draws the following conclusions:

  •  Corporate parenting is one of the most important roles of a councillor.
  • The corporate parenting role is not fully understood by all councillors.
  • There are practical ways in which every councillor can and should play a part in ensuring the best possible care for looked after children.
  • The Council’s Corporate Parenting Forum must be more effective.
  • Corporate parenting is not just about social services.
  • Professionals and carers involved with looked after children have limited awareness of the corporate parenting role of councillors.
  • There are no effective mechanisms for councillors to hear the views of looked after children.

Recommendations made by the Board include ways to raise the profile of and increase the visibility of corporate parenting amongst councillors and ways to strengthen the role of the Council’s Corporate Parenting Forum.

One of the most significant achievements of this work was the production of a practical guide that would help councillors to meet their responsibilities as corporate parents and improve the lives of children in care. The guide identifies the various roles that councillors have within the political management structure and clarifies respective corporate parenting responsibilities from lead Members right down to the part that ward councillors can play, in a far more direct and clear way than may have been done so previously. The guide was praised by the Cabinet Member for Social Services and adopted by the Council as a statement of action on corporate parenting.

 What Next?

The Board’s involvement does not end here. Specific recommendations were made to Cabinet, Council, and the Corporate Parenting Forum and action against these will be followed by the Child & Family Services Overview & Scrutiny Board during the next municipal year.

 The Board will be keen to assess the impact of its work on:

  • the Council’s understanding of what it means to be a corporate parent
  • councillors’ understanding of practical ways they can make a difference for looked after children

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