This report sets out the progress made within the areas covered by the Portfolio for Children’s Services (Lead Member), which fall within the remit of this Committee.
Members received an overview of progress on the areas within the terms of reference of this Committee and covered by the Portfolio holder for Children Services – Lead Member, as set out below:
· Children’s Partnership Commissioning (0-25)
· Children’s Provider Services (including Adoption, Fostering, Supported Accommodation and Residential Care)
· Children’s Social Care and Safeguarding Services
· Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (including Mental Health)
· Early Help (including Medway Action for Families, Youth Offending Team (YOT) and Youth Services)
· Early Years
· Safeguarding Children Board (MSCB)
The Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services responded to Members’ questions and comments, which included:
· Complacency – A Member raised concern that the report, in their view, was complacent and did not clearly identify real issues facing children’s services, such as insufficient Government funding and its impact on service delivery. The Portfolio Holder responded, expressing the view that the report was clear in setting out achievements as well as challenges and action required. He raised concern with the funding provided from Government and explained how he challenged this regularly with local MPs and ministers and added that this needed to be ongoing.
· Ofsted’s Focused Visit – The Portfolio Holder commented on the recent Focused Visit by Ofsted, which he considered to be an outstanding improvement.
· Young People’s Emotional Wellbeing Services – In response to a concern raised about the capacity to improve waiting times for the service without adequate resources, the Portfolio Holder expressed his disappointment with the CCG’s project management of the previous contract and added that the backlog of cases had been an ongoing challenge. However, he was confident of ongoing improvement.
· Free School Bid – in response to a request for an update on the Council’s Free School Bid for a special school, the Portfolio Holder explained that the decision had been expected by the end of January 2019 but this had been delayed. It was therefore anticipated to be announced imminently.
· Education Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) – in response to question regarding issues with updating EHCPs particularly in relation to a lack of participation from NHS agencies, the Portfolio Holder confirmed that Ofsted had challenged the quality of some EHCPs in its inspection into Special Education Needs and Disability Services in 2017. He explained that staff had been working hard to address those issues and stated that the most important factor in the maintenance of EHCPs was communication pathways between schools, families and the local authority and any other partners as relevant. He added that the Director of People – Children and Adults, senior colleagues and himself were working closely with NHS colleagues to address such difficulties.
· Support for independent nurseries – in response to a question about what support is provided to independent nurseries, particularly in enabling them to offer the 30 hours child care entitlement for qualifying families, the Portfolio Holder explained that the vast majority of nurseries and pre-schools were independent, however the Council has got in place a dedicated officer to help support nursery providers in developing their organisations and ensuring adequate provision across Medway.
· Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) – in response to a concern raised about Kent leading the proposed RAA, the Portfolio Holder explained that he shared concerns about the RAA set up but confirmed that it was something Medway had no choice in being part of due to Central Government policy. He also explained that there would be an officer board and through Medway’s representation on that, it would ensure that Medway had a strong voice in the RAA.
· Out of area placements – concern was raised about out of area placements and the Portfolio Holder was asked what the future plans for Aut Even were, once services transfer from there to Parklands. In response the Portfolio Holder confirmed that as many children and young people are placed within Medway where it is safe and possible to do so. He added that Parklands was a new facility which would open shortly following fire regulation sign off and Ofsted registration. He explained that decisions around the future of Aut Even had not yet been made but added that he was keen to see it used for a service more appropriate to the building, such as for Care Leavers transitions.
· Partnership working with NHS partners – in response to a question about how the Council were looking to encourage greater participation from health organisations the Portfolio Holder explained that officers and himself continued to engage and appropriately challenge NHS partners in partnership collaboration but felt that frequent structural changes and transitions within NHS Medway CCG were contributing to the difficulties and added that he expected more quality input from the CCG into Children’s services.
· Medway Youth Council’s annual conference report – reference was made to the MYC’s annual conference report and the findings relating to young people generally did not feel safe in Chatham and Gillingham. In response, the Portfolio Holder praised the work of the MYC and reassured Members that gangs and knife crime was a key priority across partners in Medway, adding his view that more needed to be done within education and school settings and that reduced funding to the Police Force and the impact this had on the capacity of a visible police presence added to the challenge.
· Medway Youth Awards – clarification was made that this event was run in partnership between Medway Youth Service and Medway Youth Council. The Portfolio Holder added that the event had been hugely successful.
The Committee thanked the Portfolio Holder for Children Services – Lead Member for his attendance.