Context & statistical summary

Context & statistical summary

The different ways that children, young people and families experience their life journey in Northumberland can be masked by looking at the data at county level. The outcomes within the county demonstrate that those living in the more deprived south east areas, experience very different outcomes compared with those from the more affluent rural areas and market towns in the north and west.

Features 

Notable features, backed up by the latest county level and national trend data, are as follows:
  • Children and families assessments include an analysis of the prevalence factors that have been identified during the assessment. The data shows that concerns around domestic violence and mental health feature in a relatively high number of assessments, and alcohol and drug misuse are also noted frequently. Children subject to sexual exploitation feature in around 3% of assessments, similar to the previous year and the national average. The safeguarding board has also received data on the prevalence of domestic violence, mental health and drug and alcohol abuse, broken down by ward. It demonstrates the high volume of adults experiencing such difficulties in the more deprived wards of the south east of the county. It also shows hotspots in other parts of the county such as Hexham East and Berwick.
  • Significantly higher than national average rates of demand for children’s social care, particularly in the south east of the county where there is a higher rate of referrals and greater deprivation. The level of referrals is relatively high compared with the national average and the levels of child poverty in the county (see child poverty assessment) vary significantly.
  • Significant increases in the number of children and young people needing more intensive support to protect them from risk and harm, demonstrated through the rates subject to section 47 investigations, child protection conferences and child protection plans. Again, the numbers are far higher in the south east of the county.
  • Unsurprisingly given the aforementioned intelligence, there are above average rates of children in need of social work support.
  • Rates of increase in the number of care applications have been sharper up until 2013. Whilst numbers of LAC are relatively low compared with north east neighbours, demand has increased. In Northumberland, the proportion of children aged nought-4 needing to be in local authority care is higher than the regional average, as is the proportion aged 10-14. For those aged 5-9 and 15-17, proportions needing to be in local authority care are lower than the regional average.
  • Rates of external fostering placements are costly and high and Northumberland needs more of its own foster carers in the localities where most of the demand originates from (i.e. the south east, with a figure of 31% compared with 19% across the region).
  • In hand with this, more adoptive carers are needed to provide permanent homes for those unable to return to their birth families. Additionally, more adoptive carers would help reduce the length of time that children wait to be adopted. Improvements have recently been seen in this area following a successful recruitment event.
  • There is a large range of different educational outcomes depending on where a child goes to school, a key determinant of future life chances for children and young people. Those achieving five good GCSEs varying by around 40% between Blyth, Bedlington and Ashington and Morpeth, Ponteland and Hexham. At most key stages, education outcomes at a countywide level are either below average or equal to average. Too many children in need and those who are looked after attend schools that are not judged as being good, and that needs to change.
  • Educational achievement of children in need is also below average. Conversely, educational outcomes for the most vulnerable children i.e. looked after children, have improved significantly.
  • school attendance is good overall, but there is too much variation within the county which reflects the education outcomes
  • Absence from school is better than the regional average and in line with national levels. Although this still masks significant variation between areas, with high levels in the Ashington and Bedlington areas. It is relatively poor for those children defined as being in need, but better for those who are subject to a child protection plan.
  • Numbers of young people becoming involved in the youth offending system are relatively low and have reduced significantly, as are those who need to be in custody, but the proportion who re-offend has increased recently. Performance reports to the council's family and children's overview and scrutiny committee contain further details on this.
  • looked after children have good access to health checks and dental care, although it is becoming more challenging to keep them up to date
  • Overall levels of 16-18 year olds who are NEET are slightly poorer than the national average, but better than the regional average. The large range seen in NEET rates reflects the different educational outcomes achieved, with far higher NEET rates in the south east than the market towns of Morpeth, Ponteland, Hexham and Alnwick. There is a need to identify more quickly the destinations of young people after they leave school so that professional staff can identify more quickly those young people who are NEET and provide them with targeted support. Proportions of those not known in the autumn term are too high, although they reduce to average levels later in the year.
  • Participation rates in NEET for 19-21 year old care leavers has been high for 19 year olds, but reduce with age. Overall, there has been a reduction recently, demonstrating the need to encourage ambition and provide opportunities that match.
  • A higher than average number of children and young people have been supported through SEN statements, although it has reduced. This is changing through the implementation of education and health care plans. Those subject to statements perform better than average at key stage two, yet are average at key stage four, revealing a slowing down of progress as children age.
  • There has been a long standing need for more accessible child and adolescent mental health services across the county. A new performance framework is in place and waiting times have reduced in 2014, although some children and young people still have to wait over 12 weeks for assessment following referral.
  • With regards to speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, where children and young people require the provision of one or more of these services during the course of the school day, they are provided for by the local authority and health service as a result of separately commissioned arrangements. The challenge issued by some parents is that this arrangement is less effective than that offered by a number of private and voluntary sector providers, who integrate these services within their core education offer. Where cases have been taken to tribunal, they have generally been found in favour of the parents’ request, not because Northumberland were able to meet educational need, but because it was perceived that they were unable to provide an appropriate therapeutic offer. This has led to a number of costly out of county placements, which the authority is potentially ‘locked into’ for the remainder of the child’s statutory education. A review of the commissioning agreements surrounding therapies is currently being undertaken. The aim is to ensure that, wherever possible, both educational and therapeutic needs are met within local mainstream and special school provision within Northumberland. In exceptional circumstances, and where it has been determined that need cannot be met by local school provision, together with commissioned therapy services (following appropriate educational and clinical assessment), a bespoke place will be commissioned from an independent school.
  • Key areas for review and consideration include:
    • existing pathways including from pre-school to statutory education provision
    • referral route for clinical assessment
    • roles and responsibilities of agencies and providers
  • In early years, there is a need for better levels of speech and communication to improve children’s access to better life chances in the future. There is a multi-agency early intervention strategy in place to help focus on how services can work with parents to improve this, along with other key factors in early development, such as breastfeeding, where rates in Northumberland are below average nationally, but better than average regionally.
  • Through consultation at takeover day, young people said their priorities were to live safely and to learn how to be independent. They have said they want to achieve as well as they can, be happy and healthy, living in places that have a strong spirit of community.