Medway Council ‘failing to protect children’

The Medway Towns’ safeguarding child care has been rated as wholly unacceptable by Ofsted (read the report here). Councillor Wickes has apologised, as has the new(ish) Children’s Director Barbara Peacock, for failing to… well here’s what Cllr Wickes said:

‘I apologise for our failure to deliver the service our children and young people deserve.’

There are many problems with cases being signed off and then being re-referred. According to Jenni Horn and Rebecca Hughes’s article in the Medway Messenger, in 2011/2 32% of closed cases had to be re-referred and so far this year 46% of cases have been re-referred, almost twice the national figure of 24%.

One of the big problems is that the initial assessments of cases are not being done thoroughly and they have not been necessarily identifying the risks or problems faced by children. I don’t want to jump onto a scare mongering band waggon but this is a similar situation that saw the death of Baby P a few years ago and the sacking of Sharon Shoesmith. We can be glad that nothing like this has happened in the Medway towns and hopefully this Ofsted report is the wake up call that was needed to rectify this.

Although it is easy to blame Councillor Wickes for this failing as the portfolio holder there are greater issues afoot as well and we should not be focused fully on him – though I will return to this momentarily.

I am heartened that the Council seem to be taking this exceptionally seriously with the Chief Executive and that they are ‘determined to improve and we’ve had in place an improvement programme for some time’. Amongst the bad news budget, which I’ll write about at a later time, Councillor Jarrett has found money to pump into this exceptionally lagging department, with new systems coming in to release social workers from paperwork and back into field work, as well as a new £1.4m electronic recording system. There is also a board of different departments and agencies getting together to advise and improve and assist – all good news.

Medway’s new Director of Children’s Services, Barbara Peacock, has only been in post for some five months and, with a record of improving children’s services at Sandwell, is definitely the right person to have on board. To some degree we should be looking at the previous head of department, Rose Collinson, who was also in post during the Medway Test debacle and left her post last summer. There also needs to be questions asked about the appointment of Duncan Clark who was assistant director of children’s services on a six month contract. He was forced out of a job by Kingston Council because under his stewardship the safeguarding department received an inadequate rating. How could Medway Council hire someone to such a vital post when they had a track record of failure?

So, what to do about Councillor Wickes?  Opposition parties are calling for his head, and although I do not believe all of the blame lies with him, this isn’t the first time for a major failing to fall at his door. As I mentioned earlier there is the Medway Test debacle which rocked the Medway Towns a couple of years ago. He is portrayed as a bit of a well meaning bungler and whether that is the case or not the public have lost confidence in him as portfolio holder. If this was National Government he would have gone or been promoted sideways. It would go a long way in gaining trust with the public if he did stand down, or was replaced, so as to completely draw a line under the whole affair – new heads, new board and new direction bent on immediate improvement.

He won’t go though; after the Medway Test problem the Tory cabinet closed ranks and he held onto his position and this will no doubt happen again.

I do believe questions behind the scenes in Gun Wharf need to be asked, and much soul searching is needed as to how the service got in such a bad way, as well as what can be done to rectify it. The Council have failed to protect one of the most vulnerable sections of our society and now real action needs to be taken.

Words: Chris Sams
Pictures: Stroodlights

Re-published from the original post on the Ginger Liberal blog

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