Medway Council has committed to make urgent improvements to its Children’s Services following an inadequate Ofsted rating.
Medway Council fully accepts all the areas of improvement proposed by the inspectors and has already started to address the feedback in the report.
Extra resources have been allocated to appoint an additional eight social workers specifically to reduce caseloads. Since the inspection, average caseloads in the assessment service have reduced by 20 per cent and the council will continue with its recruitment campaign to ensure more manageable caseloads within all teams. We have also improved the process for reviewing each case to track progress and ensure it is being dealt with in a timely way. We have also reviewed every case highlighted by Ofsted to ensure plans are progressing appropriately.
A new improvement action plan is being created that will be published in the autumn. The development and implementation of the plan will be overseen by an independently chaired Improvement Board with representation from a number of our partner agencies.
The Department for Education has today appointed a Commissioner to identify improvements and recommend any additional support required.
Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: "Medway has come a long way over the years and residents remain at the heart of everything we do, so this news is hugely disappointing. I am particularly surprised by this outcome as we have invested significant additional resources within the service and carried out extensive preparation in readiness for the inspection, so I was led to believe that we would retain or improve our previous grading. Supporting our most vulnerable residents remains a top priority and I will ensure that we continue to act with urgency on the recommendations made by Ofsted to ensure that Medway’s children in need of help and protection receive the service they deserve.
“Our Children’s Services team has already taken steps to immediately make improvements but we recognise there is a huge amount of work to be done. Children’s Services has a newly appointed portfolio holder, Cllr Josie Iles, and I have no doubts that she will be working closely with managers and staff to provide support and ensure that the concerns raised are thoroughly addressed. It is also important that all agencies which are involved in caring for looked after children work closer together to ensure a joined-up approach is provided so that each child’s needs are met.
“It is no secret that local authorities continue to face severe financial challenges. Despite this, I outlined Medway’s commitment to prioritising our support for young people during the last budget setting meeting in February when I allocated a further £2.6million to children’s services, in recognition of demographic pressures facing the service and to increase the number of our social workers to alleviate pressures on caseloads. The children’s social care budget is around £36 million this year, up by £4.5 million since 2017/18. This is helping to further enhance the support we are able to provide to children living in care.
“I would personally like to thank our Children’s Services staff for their commitment and hard work, something which the inspectors recognised in their report.
“Young people, who are the future of Medway, will remain at the heart of everything we do. It is vital that each and every one of them receives the support and care they need and deserve.”
Ofsted’s feedback also recognised the work of Medway’s Children’s Services teams and commended them for their commitment, skills and hard work. Speaking about the improvements needed, as well as the staff who carry out such a vital role to protect children, Cllr Josie Iles, who took over the post of lead member for Children’s Services in May 2019, said: “Providing support to Medway’s most vulnerable residents is already a top priority for the council and the rating will be deeply disappointing to all of the staff who work tirelessly to provide the best possible support to children in need of help and protection. We fully accept that the service previously provided is not good enough and I want to say sorry to all of the families who have not received timely assessments or the high-quality service we strive to give.
“Since accepting the post, I have met with several colleagues who work directly with families and I have no doubts about the team’s commitment to providing the best support possible. This rating is by no means a reflection on the hard work of the staff in children’s services – in fact, Ofsted recognised that improvements have been made in some areas and in particular recognised the commitment and skills of our Children’s Services teams. Nevertheless, I know staff will be disappointed by the report.
“As the newly appointed portfolio holder for Children’s Services, I will be working especially closely with the senior leaders across the department to ensure the necessary improvements are made effectively and efficiently. We have already started to refresh the improvement action plan which sets out how we can best address the concerns and make improvements. We are also establishing an Improvement Board, which will have an external chair and a clearer multi-agency improvement approach.
“We will work even harder and better together to achieve the best possible outcomes for Medway families. This is not the end, but the beginning.”
The council’s improvement action plan will fully address a range of ways to help improve the service provided to children who might be in need of help and protection.
Ian Sutherland, Director of Children’s Services, said: “This is never the result any department wants to hear, especially one which supports children. We fully accept Ofsted’s feedback and have already started to make changes to ensure we improve the service we provide to children in need of our help and protection.
“I am working closely with the newly appointed lead member for Children’s Services as well as management, our staff and partners to address the concerns and find the best ways to improve our services.
“Our social workers provide a vital role to children in need of help and protection across Medway and I am pleased that Ofsted recognised their dedication to supporting children. I am pleased the report said that staff morale was high, and we will continue to help staff to ensure they feel supported.
“The most important thing for me is that children receive the best possible service and I recognise that immediate improvements must be made, including sustainably reducing high caseloads. We have strengthened our improvement team to help support the delivery of rapid change.
“We have made a number of other changes already, including improving the process for reviewing each case to track progress and ensure it is being dealt with in a timely way. Working closely with partner agencies is fundamental and we will strengthen our coordination of our work together. We are already working with another local authority and will be learning from best practice.
“We are committed to making improvements to our service so all children and young people who require our help and protection receive the best support they need and deserve to help them reach their full potential.”
Read the Ofsted report
Read our improvement plan