‘Inadequate’ council doing better for young people but services remain inconsistent, says Ofsted

Fourth monitoring visit to Medway reveals 'significant progress', but inspectors warn that practice remains inconsistent and workforce still fragile

Image of the River Medway (credit: David Anstiss / Wikimedia Commons By Sunrise over the River Medway by David Anstiss, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112491325)
The River Medway (credit: David Anstiss / Wikimedia Commons)

An ‘inadequate’ council has made significant progress in services for care leavers and older children in care under “determined” senior leaders, but practice remains inconsistent, Ofsted has said.

After a fourth monitoring visit to the coastal Kent district since its 2019 full inspection, the inspectorate found improved workforce stability and capacity had cut caseloads, improving practitioners’ relationships with young people.

Ofsted found  “committed, caring and passionate” personal advisers ensured young people had trusted adults they could rely on.

More care leavers were succeeding in education, employment and training than the national average, and all received their health histories, marking improvements on the 2019 inspection.

Social workers and PAs valued the support they received from managers, and inspectors praised the “stable” leadership team’s determination to improve and knowledge of what they needed to do to achieve this, which was in part due to “robust” auditing.

Practice ‘inconsistent’

However, Ofsted found the quality of practice was inconsistent. Transition for older children in care did not always start early enough, leaving some insufficiently prepared for independence.

While young people’s pathway plans usually captured their identities, they sometimes lacked analysis of their emotional needs or complexities linked to trauma, resulting in support not being provided at the right level.

Until recently, some care leavers over 21 received PA support through a virtual duty system, which was insufficient to meet their needs. Though this had now been changed, it was too soon to identify impact, said Ofsted.

A new care leavers’ hub was found to be “homely and welcoming”, although inspectors said its opening hours needed to be extended as soon as possible to enable those in full-time education and training to access it.

While most care leavers lived in suitable accommodation, Ofsted found a lack of choice of accommodation for the most complex young people as they reached adulthood.

Addressing the issue was an “absolute priority” for senior staff, who had increased oversight for the small number in emergency, temporary, unregistered or unregulated placements to ensure their safety while more suitable accommodation was secured.

‘Frustration’ over mental health services

Ofsted added that local mental health services, which had faced extra demand during the pandemic, “have been insufficient to help older children in care and care leavers address their significant needs”.

Some care leavers had expressed “dissatisfaction and frustration” about the lack of specialist provision and had requested “either a bespoke mental health service or a specialist worker” within Medway’s 16-plus service to help meet unmet need.

In relation to the workforce, Ofsted found that, while supervision was regular and timely, some records were largely descriptive and lacked managerial challenge.

‘Collective efforts’

And the stability and capacity of the service remained fragile, with some posts still filled on a temporary basis and an increase in complexity of need, fuelled by the pandemic, meaning that young people were asking more from workers.

Responding to the monitoring visit’s findings, Josie Iles, Medway’s lead member for children’s services, said she was “pleased the latest monitoring visit recognises the collective continued efforts to improve, as well as the support provided to children and young people”.

She said she would “continue to work closely with the senior management team to ensure great strides continue to be made” to best support children in care and our care leavers.

“We will continue to do all we can to support Medway’s children in care and provide them and our care leavers with a more stable and promising future,” Iles said.

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