This report sets out the report from the Minister of State for Children and Families on ways forward for Children’s Services in Medway and the statutory direction to Medway Council.
This item was not available at the time of despatch with the main agenda. The Chairman of the Committee is of the opinion that it should be considered at this meeting as a matter of urgency as permitted under section 100B of the Local Government Act 1972 to enable the Committee to consider this item and forward any comments to the Cabinet when it considers the report at its meeting on 14 January 2020.
The Director of People – Children and Adults Services introduced the Commissioner for Children’s Social Care in Medway who had been appointed by the Department for Education in September 2019, following Ofsted’s inspection of the local authority’s Children’s Services, which had judged the service as inadequate.
The Commissioner then introduced her report, which had been prepared for the Minister of State for Children and Families, on the ways forward for Medway. It was explained that the report should have been published by the Government, however due to delays cause by the General Election in December, the report and Statutory Direction, was not due to be published until noon on Friday 10 January 2020 and was therefore embargoed until publication took place.
The Commissioner explained that the report and statutory direction included a number of required actions which would address the concerns of the Commissioner and the Minister, of Medway’s capacity to deliver progress but also to sustain it and emphasised that sustainability of improvement was as important as the improvement itself. She also commented on the issue of pace at Medway which she explained was difficult to measure because of the lack of an Action Plan to sit alongside the Children and Young People’s Plan.
The Commissioner also made reference to the role of Members and scrutiny which she explained needed strengthening. She felt all Members needed access to more and improved training around children’s services to enrich their ability to effectively carry out their role as Councillors, representing residents, being corporate parents to looked after children or being scrutiny committee members. She emphasised the role of scrutiny in monitoring and challenging and explained it had a role in overseeing the improvement journey as much as the Improvement Board.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:
· Member engagement and training – comment was made that Councillors from all political parties needed to engage in scrutiny more effectively. In terms of member training, the Director of People – Children and Adults confirmed that work was underway with Democratic Services to set up a training package which would be developed with support from the Local Government Association and the Centre for Public Scrutiny. It was hoped the first session would take place around late January and would provide Members with dashboard information, which was also presented to Improvement Board and would help Members focus on how to use the information to effectively and robustly challenge. The Commissioner added that it would need to include finding ways that Members could hear from service users and front line staff to reality check and fully appreciate situations that staff respond to. It was also confirmed that training package would be extended to all Committee Members, not just Councillors.
· Process – following queries about the process and accountability, the Commissioner explained that she would carry out a review report in six and twelve months, which would judge to what extent the Council has addressed actions in a timely way. She added that a Partner in Practice and a Leadership Improvement Partner had both been identified as additional resource to give Medway the best opportunity of making the level of sustained improvement that was required.
· Overview and Scrutiny reporting – comment was made about reports being too process heavy and not analytical enough and comment was also made about the future work of the Committee and how it may structure its meetings into themes, as well as frequency of reporting. The Commissioner commented that in her view reports to the Committee were not enough about what was happening currently and what performance looked like at that moment. Many reports were about the Council’s intentions and plans to do things but she felt this needed to be accompanied by reports around current status of services. She felt it would be helpful for the Committee to have more reports about various aspects of service delivery, such as support services for children with disabilities or performance around identifying children at risk, as examples.
· Progress so far – the Commissioner assured Committee Members that progress was being made. She expressed the commitment of the Council’s leadership in moving forward and referenced some of the areas of improvement that had already been made, such as reduced caseloads. The Director also confirmed that some additional staffing resource had been added to the service shortly after the inspection and following discussions with the Leader of the Council and the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services (Lead Member) there was an ongoing commitment to substantially increase the staffing establishment of the service going forward.
· Accountability – in response to a question about the reporting on progress and accountability, the Commissioner explained that overall reporting to the Minster of State was her responsibility. She confirmed that an update would be provided to the Minster in 3 months time, which would involve commentary from the Leadership Improvement Partner and the Independent Chair of the Improvement Board.
· Proposals relating to the Old Vicarage Children’s Home – reference was made to the proposals (which were the subject of a report later on the agenda). The Commissioner confirmed her support for the proposals, which would provide Medway with an opportunity to develop provision which could better meet the needs of children and young people with complex needs.
The Committee thanked the Commissioner for her attendance and noted the report and welcomed the forthcoming Member training and discussions on how to improve the Committee’s scrutiny function.