Medway Council today vows to speed up improvements already being made to its child protection services, after being rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted inspectors. The rating follows national changes recently brought in to the way Ofsted carries out inspections.
Since the last inspection in 2011, Ofsted has introduced a more rigorous test and the pace of Medway Council’s ongoing improvements have not yet met these new standards.
The report recognises the council is introducing a fast pace of improvement, pushed forward by the department’s new director – recruited for her record of rapidly turning around a children services department rated inadequate.
The report also states that inspectors concluded no children were found to be at immediate risk and highlights the strong support for children’s safeguarding from the council’s political leadership and Chief Executive.
In its summary, the report states a number of areas rated as good or adequate:
· People and different services who work with children and families are passionate about their job and that any child at immediate risk is protected from harm by their social worker and other services.
· Children and families who find life difficult and ask for help are put in touch with services that make real differences to their lives.
· The new senior managers who run Medway Council’s Children’s Services are very clear about the changes they need to make and know the pace of improvement has been too slow.
It also lists areas that need improving, which are:
· Social workers and managers do not always follow procedure and that some children are not protected as well as they should be, or quickly enough.
· Decision making by managers of teams in the service need to improve to ensure help and protection is offered to children and families at the right time and the way cases are closed – in some cases too early – needs to reviewed.
· Decision-making needs to be based on clear and accurate plans and assessments.
· Recruitment of more permanent social workers needs to be enhanced to reduce the changes children and families face.
Today’s Ofsted report notes the budget for child protection services in Medway has been protected against a background of some other council services having seen reductions.
As part of the council’s improvement plan, substantial additional funding has been agreed for specific projects, such as a new electronic recording system, which will free up social workers so that they spend more time concentrating on their main job – working with children and families.
In addition, the council is also creating a new multi-agency team to rapidly assess all children referred to the council. In addition, the council will be tackling the reasons for the high rate of re-referrals.
This team will include staff from partner agencies across Medway – an approach adopted in some other areas of the country, where organisations such as the NHS and the police have worked with the local council to ensure children most at risk are helped quickly, and in an effective way.
The report adds that ‘children subject to child protection plans are seen regularly by social workers and significant elements of good practice were identified by inspectors examining the child’s journey through services’. It adds inspectors had seen evidence of ‘good and sensitive work with children and families that had effectively reduced risk’.
However, it states ‘although no children were found to be at immediate risk, deficits in the quality of practice, case recording, and management oversight may lead to some children being inadequately protected’.
The report recognises the council’s Director of Children and Adult Services Barbara Peacock – who started in September – has ‘quickly understood key areas for development’, ‘established a clear vision’ and is ‘significantly increasing the pace of change’.
Under the leadership and governance section, the report highlights the strong support for the children’s safeguarding service, both from the political leadership of the council and from its Chief Executive.
It adds ‘while the strategic priorities of the council and its partners are clear, the council has not sufficiently identified the mechanisms to ensure that the most vulnerable children are effectively protected’.
The report also states that information sharing across agencies is not ‘sufficiently robust’, decision making on referrals is not consistent and that ‘while social workers are clearly conscientious and committed’, ‘high referral rates, high caseloads, and competing demands impact negatively’.
Cllr Les Wicks, Portfolio Holder for Children Services, has apologised, and confirmed that the council’s new director is bringing about a fast pace of change to address the priorities for improvement.
He said: “I would like to unreservedly apologise to the people of Medway – our children and families – for our failure to deliver the children's safeguarding service that our children and young people in Medway deserve. The situation is not good enough and is not acceptable.
“Early last year it was clear to me as the lead member for children’s services that we were not improving fast enough to meet the standards that children in Medway deserved.
“Things needed to change faster and that is why in June last year we appointed Barbara Peacock as our new Director of Children's and Adults Services. Barbara joined in September 2012 with a track record of delivering improvement in underperforming social care teams.
“Since then, we have completed a thorough review of the whole children's safeguarding area and in late 2012 we instigated a major programme of change that was already starting to address the weaknesses identified by Ofsted's inspection in January.
“We still have much to do, but are committed to working with our partners to protect children at risk in Medway.”
Neil Davies, Chief Executive, added: “I have been very forthright in my belief that the work we do around child protection and safeguarding needs to improve and when it became clear last year that this was not happening quickly enough I considered this unacceptable.
“However, I am confident that the directorate – under Barbara Peacock – has the right leadership and right plan in place to deliver the improvements needed. Ofsted has recognised this clearly in the report.
“Ofsted also highlighted the strong support for the children’s safeguarding service, both from the political leadership of the council and from me as Chief Executive. This strong support will not change as we continue to address the problems highlighted in this inspection report.”
Barbara Peacock, Director of Children and Adult Services, said: “We wholly accept the findings in today's Ofsted report.
“The inspectors have highlighted that Medway has committed and conscientious social workers and our improvement plan builds on that commitment to their work.
“Ofsted has recognised that we already have a comprehensive improvement plan and we are already making rapid progress in delivering those improvements.”