Agenda item

Options Paper Medway Children Assessment Unit

This report sets out options available to deliver an Assessment Unit, recommending an option to utilise the Old Vicarage property with a commissioned service to a partner/provider for a period of a year and a half, thereafter moving to two more suitable smaller units.




The Head of Service for Partnership Commissioning, Resources and Youth Justice introduced the report which set out options to develop an assessment unit to support with the reunification of children back with families or into more suitable and longer-term arrangements.


Members then raised a number of questions and comments, which included:

·        Children where residential is most appropriate – with the change in use of the Old Vicarage, concern was raised about how Medway would accommodate children for whom residential care is considered the most appropriate option. In response, officers confirmed that the Old Vicarage was an outstanding facility but had been consistently under used and could no longer meet the needs of children and young people requiring support in Medway. Additionally, it is only a very small number of children who require residential care, a majority of children are best placed in a family setting (if not their own). What had been clearly identified, was the need for a unit to fully assess children to ensure they are then provided with the best placement to suit their needs, which in turn would reduce risks of placement breakdowns and to support reunification with families where it is safe to do so.

·        Savings – in response to a question about actual savings, officers confirmed that savings for the last financial year was £329,000, with further savings being realised in the current financial year. It was added that the four children whom had resided at the Old Vicarage, had all moved on to successful placements at a reduced cost and had been provided with permanency. One of the four had experienced some difficulties, but these had been addressed and all four were now flourishing.

·        Service for Medway children only – officers confirmed the contract would be drawn up to ensure it was a Medway provision for Medway children.

·        Finances – concern was raised about how reliable the figures were in relation to the £750k that was envisaged to be secured from the sale of the Old Vicarage and where shortfall would come from if this was not the final sum received from the sale of the building. Officers confirmed that colleagues across Planning, Property and Finance Services had been heavily involved in drawing up the funding model and were confident of the figures provided.


·        Registered Manager – reference was made to the Manager of the Service being able to refuse placement of a child. Officers confirmed this was the case, as set out in law, and was important process in terms of matching residents. However, the Service’s Statement of Purpose would be written to support the needs of children and young people that are presenting in Medway now and therefore the risks of being refused would be reduced because the service would be better suited to meet needs than the Old Vicarage had been.


·        Commissioning the service – Members requested more information as to why the Council should commission the service and not provide it in-house.  Officers explained that there were excellent providers already experienced in delivering this model of service, which was something that was not currently in existence within the local authority.  In addition, providing the service in-house would risk detracting focus from Medway’s improvement journey. An in-house model would also cost more and carries more risk.


·        Age range for service – in response to a question as why the service was not initially looking at younger children, particularly to ensure early intervention.  Officers confirmed that this was based on the data and the sufficiency report. The numbers of adolescents coming through the system needed to be immediately addressed. Early intervention was important however, expanding the service to young age ranges may be something to look at in the future.


·        Provider market and contract – officers confirmed that light market research had taken place and a number of good or outstanding providers had expressed interest. In addition, officers confirmed that a period of 3 + 2 years was likely to be the contract period.

·        Alternative option – Members asked why a further option of keeping the Old Vicarage and only purchasing one additional property had not been considered. Officers explained that the reason to use the Old Vicarage initially was to get the service running as soon as possible as it was needed to meet a demand that already exists in Medway. However, the Old Vicarage site was considered too large for the practical running of an assessment unit and therefore the desire was to subsequently purchase two smaller units. Members however, challenged this, they considered it better to retain the Old Vicarage and purchase just one additional unit, at least initially with then the potential to purchase a second smaller unit if that was proven to work much better for the service, once the service had been tested and was running in practice. The point was also made that this would give flexibility to potentially adapt services and respond to sufficiency as it evolved. Officers acknowledged that the suggested variant to option 4b (detailed within the report) would help mitigate the risks related to sourcing two properties.




The Committee recommended Option 4b in providing a Children Assessment Unit across two sites but recommended the Cabinet to agree to purchase one additional unit and consider the possibility of retaining the Old Vicarage as the second site, at least initially, to have the benefit of experience of the service running before deciding whether the purchase of a second property and the sale of the Old Vicarage is the best option.


In accordance with Council rule 12.6, Councillors Cooper, Johnson and Chrissy Stamp requested that their votes in favour be recorded.

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