A remarkable turnaround at Medway children’s services has led Ofsted to praise the department’s “substantial improvement” since its previous 2019 inspection, moving its rating from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’.
Inspectors recognised the substantial shift in focus to keep children at the centre, noting that “children matter in Medway”.
The accolade is even more impressive given the local authority’s longstanding history of inadequacy. Having previously been criticised for “serious shortcomings” in leadership, the latest inspection report, published in July 2023, praised Medway, saying: “Corporate and political leaders have addressed the systemic weaknesses and there is now a strong, determined and cohesive leadership team”.
Inspectors highlighted the significant investment and commitment by leaders at Medway and how there was a “focus on children in Medway which is seen in all parts of the corporate, political and operational leadership”.
Ambition for children
Donna Marriott, assistant director of children’s social care, says that while the Ofsted rating is significant, the most important thing is the department having ambition for children, putting them at the centre of everything and improving their lives.
“We have made real progress and children and young people are getting a better service, while staff are better supported,” she says.
This was picked up by Ofsted, whose said: “The voice of the child is heard loud and clear.”
Donna, a former Ofsted inspector herself, was drawn back to frontline social work by the desire to reconnect with children’s lives and drive improvement.
Following Medway’s inadequate rating and the government’s appointment of a commissioner to drive improvement, the council recognised that cultural change was needed. Placing children and their experiences at the heart of practice has been key to supporting this cultural shift.
Staff engagement has also been central to the improvement journey. A staff reference group, regular conferences and cross-service events have led to a sense of shared purpose.
Pauline Naraine, head of children’s social work, says: “It has been hugely important and incredibly supportive to have a stable leadership team driving forward the improvement and ensuring positive outcomes for the children and families.”
Inspectors commended “significant progress” in early help services – which were strongly criticised in the 2019 report – and the authority’s “well-managed” front-door, ensuring appropriate and timely responses to children’s needs.
Ofsted also noted “improvements for children in care and care leavers, who now receive good care and support”.
Significant investment in a strong workforce offer, including an overhaul of pay and conditions, and a focus on ‘growing our own’ workforce is delivering results for Medway.
Extensive investment has been made in creating a practice development service, which supports practitioners’ learning and development, with a focus on wellbeing, as well as in an impressive offer for newly-qualified social workers.
Pauline adds that, as a result, the authority is “starting to see more permanent applications and social workers wanting to come and work for Medway”.
A focus on practice
“The local authority has refocused its chosen social work approach, supporting all staff to continue to develop their skills and to practice in line with this,” Ofsted’s latest report says.
Best practice is not only recognised but shared and celebrated through weekly ‘Friday emails’ from Donna, which include various staff ‘shout-outs’ to recognise the good work that takes place.
Head of first response and family solutions Kelly Cogger, who has been with Medway for 32 years, says: “Staff feel included, heard and up-to-date with what is happening. Multi-agency relationships have also improved and this has supported improved practice from all disciplines.”
Kelly highlights that Medway’s journey has not been easy.
“There are many reasons we were found to be inadequate in 2019,” she adds. “However, to be inadequate, and then enter into a pandemic in 2020, a cost-of-living crisis, a national placement sufficiency challenge and staffing shortage made our journey harder. The inadequate judgement brings a significant level of ongoing monitoring, which was also a challenge. But, we have been relentless in our ambition to improve, and we have [done so]!”
Still more to do
Kelly adds: “We recognise that there is more to do, including supporting our adolescents differently and working with 16-17 homeless young people. We must also continue to improve the quality of assessments and direct work and continue to strive for a permanent workforce.”
Donna acknowledges that progress has been made in some areas more than others.
“Work now needs to continue to drive consistently good services for children and families in Medway,” she adds.
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