In which our intrepid reporter continues to dig into what went wrong with children’s social care services in Medway, and what the council are trying to do to fix things..
Don’t know if you’ve seen but children’s social care in Medway is a ticking time bomb. The council have until the end of the year to prove they can turn around a bad mark from Ofsted and still take care of the most vulnerable children in the Towns in their time of need.
Just as a brief summary, here’s a list of things the inspector says needs to improve:
- More staff needed to lower caseloads
- Better audits so Alan Jarrett (and managers) know what’s going on
- Early help managers that should help children get “the right help at the right time”
- The system for tracking children who go missing
- How children who have left care get help with housing, jobs and education or training
- The relationship between the council and the NHS
- Management of foster carers and prospective adopters
- The response for children who have experienced neglect, exposed to parental domestic violence and young people in danger of exploitation
For people who don’t work in the field, it sounds like they have to improve everything they do. While it isn’t far from it, the council must take credit for how children do not feeling unsafe and are in stable foster placements. Ofsted commended social workers for knowing a lot about the children they look after and care leavers all agree their personal advisors give them the best support.
But either way, a lot needs to be done for children in need to get the best possible when they need it. That’s all any social worker, council officer or decent human being wants for these young people; the best chance possible.
So what are they doing about it?
Councillors from all parties met to discuss it last month (October 3) at Gun Wharf. Except Cllr Josie Illes, who is responsible for Children’s Services at the council, and was at Local Government Association training in Norfolk. Considering she’s new to the job so needs this specialist course that’s more than a two hour drive away, I’m sure her absence wasn’t too controversial.
However, Director of People – Children and Adults (wild job title) Ian Sutherland was there to explain what the council is doing to clean up their act. Deputy Director Ann Domeney bowed out after the results of the damning Ofsted inspection in July came out.
Here’s what the council have been doing:
- Improving audits by working with Ealing Council
- Councillors will be more involved- they will be updated on progress in January and March
- 8 social workers have been hired, but they are agency staff
- “Management arrangements had been changed”
- a single Head of Service for Early Help and First Response
- Interim Assistant Director, Education and Special Educational Needs and Disability post
- Independent Chair for the Improvement Board
- Young people were the first to be told about the Ofsted report and asked for their views at the Medway Children and Young People Council
- Current providers of mental health services inherited a backlog
- Staff surveys are being rolled out so they feel they voice means something
To help the council with their mission is children’s commissioner Eleanor Brazil, who was airlifted into Haringey Council following the Baby P scandal.
Who is she? According to Huddersfield Daily Examiner, she has spent more than a decade helping councils like Medway that are not up to scratch. So far, she’s redeemed Leeds, Stoke-on-Trent and Hereford councils. Since Ms Brazil is being wheeled out across the country, maybe this is a national issue.
Councils across the country have seen an 84 per cent increase in children being supported on child protection plans, and an additional 15,920 children in care in the last decade. While since 2010 (and we all know which type of Government came in at that time and has stuck around), council funding has been stripped back to its bare minimum. Looking after children and vulnerable adults are two of the biggest responsibilities councils have and they are the most expensive. Last financial year, councils budgeted an additional £542 million for children’s social care but still had to spend £770 million more.
So can Medway Council turn it all around? Well we’ll soon find out and I’ll let you know.
Greta Byline is a journalist.
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