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Heated Medway Council meeting after inadequate Oftsed report on children's services

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A heated cabinet session was held yesterday to discuss a damning report on the significant flaws in the provision of children's services at a Kent council.

Medway Council is at risk of losing control of its children's services after it was rated 'inadequate' following an Ofsted inspection in July.

Children's services were rated inadequate by Ofsted. Stock picture
Children's services were rated inadequate by Ofsted. Stock picture

Vulnerable children were left at risk of harm and senior leaders were unaware of the extent of the failures.

The Department of Education has appointed an experienced commissioner, Eleanor Brazil, to scrutinise the local authority over the next three months as Medway cabinet members met at Chatham's Gun Wharf for an urgent public discussion on the matter.

Medway councillor, Josie Iles (Con), cabinet member for children's services, said it was her "top priority" to make effective improvements and deliver a "high quality" service for young people.

Council leader, Alan Jarrett, who expressed his "deep shock" at the report when it was first announced, said: "To find the information given to us was so far adrift from reality is very worrying and shows the service was not being sufficiently self aware."

He later added: "There will be a forensic look on the £35 million budget for children's services and reasons the money was not used as well as it might have been."

Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett

Medway Council was rated as 'inadequate' in three of Ofsted's four listed categories and deputy director of children's services, Ann Domeney, resigned immediately after the Ofsted report was published seven days ago.

Six inspectors visited Medway between July 15 and July 26 and found significant issues around excessive workloads for staff, with some looking after as many as 55 children.

Concerns were also expressed about the delayed responses to supporting children at risk, staffing capacity and senior managers' oversight about vulnerable children's experiences.

However, Cllr Howard Doe (Con), deputy leader of the council, was one of the few members to focus on the strengths in the report during the public meeting, which included stable foster service placements and disabled children receiving an effective service.

He said: "I'm frankly surprised that they found it necessary to appoint a commissioner."

But, Cllr Rupert Turpin (Con), business portfolio holder, retorted that he wanted "no stone left unturned" in finding answers around the failures in the report.

He later added: "We need a quantum leap in the level of approval over the next few months."

Gillingham councillor, Pat Cooper (Lab), who was sat in on the meeting, urged for cross-party collaboration.

Ofsted rate children's services as inadequate

She said: "We were as shocked as everyone else was when the report came out. It's very serious and we need to work together on this."

The Government has already advised 10 areas for improvement for the local authority and Cllr Jarrett has already spoken to the commissioner to see how the council can best work with Ms Brazil.

He added: "We will fix the problem and treat it with the utmost urgency."

A review on Ms Brazil's findings will be made to the Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Children and Families by December 1.

Medway was issued with improvement notices in 2013 and 2014, with the leader of the department leaving the £121,000-a-year role, which she had held since 2012, in 2016.

Concluding, the NSPCC added: “It is vital that the safety and wellbeing of children in Kent is an absolute priority and that those young people at risk – whether through neglect or any other form of abuse – receive the right help and support to protect them from harm.

“We would urge any adult worried about a child to call the NSPCC’s Helpline on 0808 800 5000 for help and advice. Children can call Childline on 0800 1111.”

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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