We have welcomed the publication of a letter from Ofsted following a recent focused visit to our Children’s Services which reports further progress has been made in improving our services.
In its letter, Ofsted recognised the relentless focus of the council on improvement and its determination to embed change across the service. Since the inadequate judgement in the ILACs inspection published in August 2019, we have prioritised the implementation of an improvement plan for our Children’s Services and have worked at pace to make significant improvements within the service and made substantial targeted investment to drive the developments.
The monitoring visit, which took place in May, highlighted a number of areas where progress has been made particularly during the additional challenges imposed on the service by the COVID-19 pandemic. These included:
- Progress made by the increasingly stable senior leadership team in developing the necessary foundations to develop and improve the consistency and quality of practice and understand the quality of social work practice through the service.
- The swift response of senior leaders to the challenges presented by the pandemic, developing new ways of working while continuing to deliver essential services. The report states that individual risk assessments have ensured that the most vulnerable children have been seen regularly and face to face as needed and social workers have ensured that they sought their views and heard their voice throughout the pandemic.
- Relationships with partner agencies and community services have been strengthened. Effective relationships with education, schools and health partners have promoted effective co-ordination of services to children and their families throughout this period.
- Improvements within the multi-agency safeguarding hub. The letter welcomed a new model of working alongside a revised threshold document, launched in April 2021, which has impacted positively on the quality and timeliness of referrals received from partner agencies and application of social work thresholds and decision-making.
- Increased staffing levels within the care leaver service, are enabling social workers and personal advisers to establish and keep in touch with young people more regularly.
- Child protection enquiries completed in a timely way and clear evidence is provided of appropriate decision making together with thorough assessment of need and risk and decision making.
- During the pandemic, senior leaders have ensured that children in care have been able to access services to meet their emotional health needs.
- Effective identification and tracking of families who are home-educating their children.
- The close working relationship with schools during the pandemic which led to better communication and joined-up work to assure and maintain children’s attendance at school, including those children who are vulnerable.
We are on the right track
Welcoming the findings, Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “This is a hugely encouraging report from Ofsted and evidences the enormous hard work that has been put in by every single member of the team over the past year. As well as considerable additional financial investment, we remain laser focussed on ensuring that we continue to drive improvements into the way we support our most vulnerable children and families in Medway and give our young people the best start in life. This sits at the heart of our Child Friendly Medway agenda making sure that the needs and voices of young people are a key part of Medway’s planning and decision making.
“We recognise that we still have some way to go, with much still to do but this Ofsted report shows that we are on the right track.”
The report also highlights the progress that has been made in improving the stability, experience and skills of our Children’s Services workforce commenting that increased staffing levels have led to a reduction in caseloads to manageable levels. The inspectors felt that social workers have been well supported during the pandemic, both in terms of access to managers and training but also importantly supported to stay safe through guidance, support and personal protective equipment.
Keeping Medway's young people safe
Cllr Josie Iles, Lead Member for Children’s Services commented: “I would like to thank every single member of the team who has worked so hard in very difficult circumstances over the past 16 months. This encouraging report reflects the way they have all worked so well together to keep Medway’s young people safe. I am also delighted that our new approach is attracting more social workers to join our teams as we go from strength to strength.”
The report highlights three key areas where improvement is still needed including analysing the need and planning for children who are at risk of harm and experiencing long-term neglect, management oversight and case planning for children who are placed at a distance from Medway and children who go missing and are at risk of exploitation and ensuring the availability of and access to emotional health and well-being services for older children in care and care leavers.
Improved partnership working
Rory Patterson, Independent Chair of the Children’s Improvement Board, said: “The Improvement Board, established by the Department for Education, to oversee this work, welcomes the findings of the Ofsted team and the areas highlighted for further work. Improved partnership working across all the agencies continues to bring results that benefit children and families in Medway. We remain focussed on the delivery of all parts of the Improvement Plan and providing rigorous oversight of the work being done.”