Processes to support social work practice, new at the time of the previous visit, have been embedded and strengthened. In most cases, children and their families now receive a timely and proportionate response to their needs, the focused visit to Medway local authority children’s services found.
"Senior leaders know the service well," said the report. "They acknowledge the strengths in the service, but are realistic about where further improvement is needed, for example in the quality of assessments. Suitable plans are in place to address these weaknesses."
Inspectors reviewed the local authority’s arrangements for responding to contacts and referrals at their ‘front door’, the First Response Team.
- Decisions about contacts and referrals to the SPA, including those that are received out of hours, are made in good time.
- In the cases sampled, managers in the SPA had provided clear direction and oversight in a timely way, with a focus on the needs of the children.
- There has been a welcome increase in the range of multi-agency professionals who are based in, or linked to, the MASH.
- When children are at immediate risk of significant harm, this is quickly recognised, and referrals are progressed to child protection strategy meetings and assessment teams, so that protective action can be taken.
- The local authority is taking well-focused action to address the areas it has highlighted for development in the assessment teams.
- The formation of children and family hubs has provided a sound base for the provision of early help services in Medway.
"The local authority has worked hard to recruit and retain permanent staff and managers, and this is an improving picture. At the time of this visit, 75% of staff were in permanent positions. Vacant posts were filled with agency staff. Despite high service demand and high caseloads, social workers are positive and optimistic," said the report.
"Staff talk about good levels of support, both formal and informal. Group supervision with external facilitators is valued, and staff describe how they have put learning from this approach into practice. Management oversight and direction, which makes use of case audit outcomes, is increasingly effective," the report concludes.
Ofsted recommends that Medway improves the participation of health partners in strategy meetings, to ensure that timely and full information is provided to facilitate the comprehensive consideration of risks to children.
The timeliness of contacts and referrals that are sent by the police to the MASH should be addressed and Medway should improve the quality of assessments, and the timeliness of initial visits to children and their families.