Medway is in trouble. The most vulnerable children in our Towns are being let down by the people that are supposed to be there in a time of crisis, as a last resort.
The top inspector in the country has found that the services designed to protect and safeguard vulnerable children is faring worse than council leader Cllr Alan Jarrett’s worst fears.
Judged on three elements by Brenda McLaughlin, children’s social care services were scored the lowest possible grade overall, with one exception. Both the impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families and the experiences and progress of children who need help and protect were considered “inadequate”. While the experiences and progress of children in care or who have left care, were considered “requires improvement to be good”.
Huge caseloads of as many as 55 children and lack of support are key factors why the dedicated staff at the frontline are not being able to up their game as they desperately wish to do so. Children are not getting the emotional and mental health support they need in time and children “spend extensive periods of time at continuing risk of harm when they need the threshold for care”. This means, children are kept in harmful situations even though their problems should be bad enough for the council to give them extra support and attention. On top of that, young adults who have left care at 18 are not getting the access to health care, somewhere to live or help with education or employment. This is scary stuff.
Over four years ago, Medway Council was warned that the services for children were in trouble. Alan Jarrett told the media he genuinely thought the situation was improving. Before this year’s damning inspection results, the head of children’s services left as did the democratically-elected person in charge, Cllr Andrew Mackness. So now there are new people at the helm, assigned to pick up the crumbling pieces. To top things off, they only have until the end of the year to prove they can do it before children’s social care will be taken out of their hands.
In an ideal world, everyone agrees, none of these services would be necessary as children would stay with their families and loved ones. That’s a given. I would also hope everyone recognises that no one goes to work with children without wanting the best for them. They could earn far more money doing something that doesn’t have half the amount of heartbreak. On top of that, I know we like to moan about them, but people who live and work in Medway (even councillors) are far more likely to know what local children need rather than those in Westminster or even further away.
There’s no denying that someone has messed up. Either Medway is too horrible for social workers to live (even though both University of Kent and Christchurch train them in our Towns) or we have a bigger crisis in our hands. Everyone in the field knows taxpayers’ money is not stretching far enough to cover the cost of looking after the people who need it the most but how is that possible? Taxes have been going up and up but there’s still not enough money in the pot to provide for the people who could end up in the hands of gangs instead.
Rather than Westminster spending money on chicken boxes to put children off crime, it is undeniable their coffers should be directly to those on the ground trying their best to make sure children get the care they need. You might not know this but the council is considered “corporate parents” of children in care, this means as taxpayers we have a vested interest in these children’s lives. Sure, we have our own children, who live with us to care for, but share a thought for these children who have been seriously let down by those who need them the most.
We don’t know what the future holds for children’s social care in Medway, only time will tell but we know things must change. Social workers can’t continue to work their arses off for little reward and both children and young people can’t be neglected. This will only lead to more problems along the way and every young person deserves a fighting chance at the most vital times of their lives.
So in the upcoming weeks leading up to the big decision, we will be looking at why this happened, who can help it stop happening and also the bigger picture: are Medway’s problems just a symptom of the whole country?
Greta Byline is a journalist.