The Ofsted Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) took place in Medway from 15 to 26 July 2019. This report sets out details of the outcome of the Inspection, provides information relating to the statutory direction issued by the Department for Education, gives an overview of the completed and planned actionsand provides the Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee with oversight of the role of the Children’s Commissioner.
The Director of People – Children and Adults introduced the report which set out information about the Ofsted Inspection of Local Authority Children’s Services (ILACS) that took place in Medway from 15 to 26 July 2019. The Director explained that the outcome of the inspection had been a judgement of inadequate for the overall effectiveness of the service. He explained the key findings of the inspection, as set out at section 3 of the report, and that the Department for Education (DfE) had issued a statutory direction to Medway Council which led to their appointment of an Independent Children’s Services Commissioner. He also highlighted immediate action that had been taken and explained the improvement journey planned going forward.
In addition, the Director referred to the work the Council was doing with the London Borough of Ealing, who had been identified by the DfE as a Partner in Practice for the Council to work with and this collaboration had started before the inspection and was hugely beneficial in learning from best practice there.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Improving audits – in response to a question about how the quality, accuracy and reliability of audits could be improved the Director explained that this had been an area that officers had worked on with Ealing LBC. As a result, a new audit profile had been rolled out and it was believed this would significantly strengthen this area. In addition, a Moderation Panel was in place to benchmark against, which Ofsted had commented positively about during the inspection, but had found that the existence of the Panel was still in its infancy and therefore too early to assess its impact.
· Future reporting to Committee – in response to comments raised about future reporting and scrutiny of improvement by the Committee, officers undertook to work with Members through the agenda planning process to ensure Members are provided with relevant and regular information on progress. It was suggested that the Committee would require more specific information, such as more detail on caseload levels and recruitment and retention detail. The importance of Members being more active and robust when scrutinising issues was emphasised. The Director explained that there would be substantial reporting to Ofsted and to the Improvement Board and that this information could also be shared with Committee Members. It was confirmed that an update on progress had been scheduled for the January and March meetings of this Committee. The Director also added that the quarterly monitoring information with Ofsted would be published on the Ofsted website, meaning a transparent and significantly scrutinised approach to the improvement journey.
· Additional social workers and future structures – in response to queries about the additional eight social workers who had been added to the work force, the Director explained that this was an initial figure to quickly reduce caseloads which had been found to be too high. It was confirmed they were agency staff to enable their swift integration to the service and that they were brought in as a group to enable them to be deployed flexibly. He added that the Commissioner had been clear that more work on workforce levels and how the service should be organised was needed and changes may need to be made in order to build more resilience to the service. It was also explained that officers were working closely with HR colleagues to help maximise recruitment and retention.
· Medway Virtual School (MVS) – in response to a question about findings by Ofsted in relation to the MVS the Director explained that verbal feedback from Ofsted, which had been more detailed than that contained in the report, was positive about the new Virtual Headteacher, the revised and enhanced structure of the MVS and its plans for improvement but again found it too early to be able to demonstrate its impact and the outcomes on children and young people.
· Delays in statutory assessments – in response to a question about how the delays in statutory assessments for vulnerable children can be addressed, the Director explained that the management arrangements had been changed to create a single Head of Service for Early Help and First Response so there was clearer oversight when cases were stepped up or down. There had also been an additional Area Manager post created, increasing the capacity and resource of the service which would also help to remedy this issue.
· Capacity of the Directorate’s Management Team – concern was raised about the capacity of the Children and Adult Services Management Team and Members welcomed the creation of an Interim Assistant Director, Education and Special Educational Needs and Disability post to help improve capacity.
· Attendance of the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services (Lead Member) and the Independent Chair of the Improvement Board – the Chairman had confirmed that the Portfolio Holder had been unable to attend the meeting as she was in Coventry attending a course. It was suggested that where possible, as the statutory member, she should be invited to be present at the Committee when it considered updates on Ofsted progress. In addition, it was acknowledged that the Council was in the process of recruiting an Independent Chair for the Improvement Board (which was being chaired by the Independent Commissioner in the interim) and there would be invitations for the Independent Chair to attend future meetings of the Committee where appropriate.
· National context of reduced funding – comment was made about the national reduction of funding for local authorities and the impact this was having on the effectiveness of children’s services. The Director confirmed that the Association of Directors of Children’s Services lobbied Government regularly about funding for social care and had been pleased that there had been some additional funding made available by the Government for this.
· Voice of young people – in response to comments raised about ensuring the voice of young people was heard during the improvement journey the Director confirmed that one of the first groups to be informed of the Ofsted outcome was the Medway Children and Young People Council and added that the voice of children would be paramount going forward as the system needed to be able to demonstrate more what outcomes mean for children.
· Mental Health Services – comment was made about the quality and timeliness of mental health services for vulnerable children and young people, stating that it needed to be improved. The Director responded that when the current providers took over the contract they inherited a substantial backlog which was difficult to address. However, recent intelligence suggested a more positive experience for new service users entering the system.
· Use of Children and Family Hubs – comment was made that the Children and Family Hubs could be used more effectively to support families who did not meet the threshold for intervention but needed additional support. The Director confirmed that a finding from the inspection was that the Council was not utilising the resources at the hubs effectively enough and this was therefore a strand of the improvement being looked at.
· Network meetings for School Designated Safeguarding Leads (DSLs) – a suggestion was made that there should be networking opportunities for School DSLs and officers undertook to look into the possibilities of setting this up.
· Corporate responsibility – in response to a question about there being a responsibility of all Members as corporate parents and across the Council, not just in Children’s Services, the Director confirmed that the service was being supported across the Council. For example, HR Services were working closely with Children’s Services in relation to retention and recruitment strategies. In addition, officers were looking at further Member training opportunities for all Councillors and were working with Ealing LBC on this to gain best practice ideas.
· Staff morale – in response to a question about staff morale following the inspection, the Director confirmed that morale amongst staff had been sustained and positive feedback about the motivation and commitment of staff both in the inspection report and from Members had been greatly received. Discussions were ongoing to see if staff surveys could be made available more regularly to social workers and to look at ways in which management can better engage with staff.
The Committee noted the report.