Medway council is no longer at risk of losing its children’s services after its commissioner found the authority had the “capacity and capability to deliver the changes needed”.
The Department for Education-appointed commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, had been in place to oversee improvements at Medway since September 2019 following an ‘inadequate’ judgment by Ofsted, which had found “dedicated” social workers were not being supported to practise safely.
Brazil said in a report, published at the end of last month, that she had begun to “see progress, both strategically and in the quality of service” and that there was no longer a need for a commissioner to be in place or for the council’s services to be at risk of being taken away.
The DfE has accepted the commissioner’s recommendations and appointed an improvement adviser (Gladys Rhodes White) to replace the commissioner, indicating a lower level of government intervention in the authority.
Drop in social worker vacancies
In her report, Brazil noted progress had been made across eight agreed priority areas, including social worker recruitment and retention, and practice. On the first, she praised “a relentless drive” that had seen social worker vacancy rates fall from 40% in April 2020 to 23% in October, and also the induction support provided to 10 practitioners from South Africa and Zimbabwe who joined in September.
She also cited a meeting with social workers who praised the improvements made and significant increases in training, a development Brazil attributed to the appointment of principal social worker Lori Goossen, who joined in June 2020.
Brazil said the council had “worked hard to respond to Covid-19 and at the same time to drive forward the improvement plan” and that, though there was “much still to do”, the pace of improvements had been “measured, but sustained, with many hurdles overcome along the way”. Under the new arrangements, the council is required to co-operate with Rhodes White and will be subject to DfE reviews in six and 12 months’ time.
Josie Iles, portfolio holder for children’s services at Medway council, said: “We are grateful for the support and guidance we have received from our commissioner… Our main focus now is ensuring sustainable improvements are made so Medway’s children in need of our help and protection receive the service they deserve.
“We have already recruited additional social workers which have reduced caseloads and now have a permanent leadership team in post… There is still much to be done but we are fully committed to transforming the service we provide for children and young people in need of our help and protection, as well as for our children in care.”
Council removed from DfE intervention
Meanwhile, children’s services in Reading, run since 2018 by not-for-profit company Brighter Futures for Children, have been removed from government intervention five years after Ofsted found “serious, persistent and systemic failures” across its children’s services.
In a letter to Reading council, children’s minister Vicky Ford confirmed she was lifting the intervention and acknowledged the “significant improvement” made since the 2015 Ofsted judgement, with services now rated ‘requires improvement’.
The decision has been welcomed by Reading council and Brighter Futures for Children.
Liz Terry, lead councillor for children’s services at Reading, said: “This is hugely welcome news for all staff working with children and families, whether at the council or Brighter Futures for Children, who have worked so tirelessly over the last five years to drive forward improvements to children’s services in Reading…
“We know there is a long way to go and much more work to do, but the lifting of this is a major milestone in a continuing improvement journey.”