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Birmingham children’s social services slumps to a new low

Birmingham children’s social services slumps to a new low

🕔04.Feb 2013

kidsA Birmingham social work team failed to assess 86 per cent of cases of children suspected of suffering domestic abuse on time, Chamberlain Files can reveal.

Minutes from a meeting of a city council first response team show that only 14 per cent of initial case assessments of young people were completed within statutory timescales laid down by the Government.

The leaked document describes the performance as “very poor” and blames “bad luck” for the high number of caseloads handed to the team to deal with.

There is also a reference to the “constant instability” caused by the high number of agency managers employed by the council.

The minutes, which chronicle a meeting of one of several first response teams held last month, reveal that plans to spread the workload more evenly among other social work teams fell apart as “managers were not in agreement”.

The meeting agreed to prioritise older cases “as children have not been seen” and noted that “our team have (sic) been unlucky with the volume of cases coming in”.

Failure to carry out assessments to the required standard and on time has been a long-running sore at Birmingham children’s social services for many years.

The department has been under Government special measures for more than three years after Ofsted declared provision for vulnerable children to be inadequate following several high-profile child deaths in the city.

The latest indication that standards are falling again will alarm city council leader Sir Albert Bore, who warned before Christmas that children’s social services faced its final chance to improve or could risk being taken over by Whitehall.

The 14 per cent rate for completing initial assessments on time means that the council’s latest strategy, to identify children at potential risk at the earliest possible stage thereby saving money in the long run, is not working.

The figure should also be seen in the context of below-par performance in completing education Statements for school children with special needs and disabilities. Shortly before Christmas, only 19 per cent of statements were being completed on time, although it’s thought the rate has risen since then.

First response teams of social workers are supposed to play a vital role in the city’s new Integrated Family Support Teams – essentially, acting as the front line in assessing youngsters when they come to the council’s attention.

Minutes from the meeting paint a depressing picture of social workers fighting on several fronts. There is a sense of panic over the non-completion of Personal Development Reviews (PDRs), with the document noting: “People need to gather evidence for the PDRs. If there’s no evidence for this it will not look good.”

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PDRs were said to have been completed late and “the team was not given training on how to do this”.

Intriguingly, the meeting also noted that “team managers are no longer allowed to sign inadequate assessments”, in an indication that a blind eye was turned to such a practice in the past.

Ofsted is due to carry out a further inspection of Birmingham children’s services in March or April, six months after inspectors last visited and found insufficient improvement in standards.

The visit could prove particularly challenging for Children’s Services Director Peter Duxbury, who has told staff he expects services for vulnerable children to gain a “good” rating this year.

Mr Duxbury, the latest in a long line of high profile figures hired to turn around social care, was appointed on a salary of £145,000 a year. He will have been in post for 12 months when Ofsted arrive and the city council’s new Labour leadership are bound to be looking for signs of improvement at the troubled department.

However, two areas where Ofsted have been critical in the past continue to give cause for concern.

Long term sickness in the Children, Young People and Families directorate is running at high levels with 431 members of staff, including social workers, having been off ill for more than 14 weeks.

Another issue concerns the high number of agency social work staff hired because the council finds it difficult to recruit and retain full time employees. The cost of hiring staff through agencies is particularly high and the council is currently paying £130,000 a year extra for eight social work team managers.

Cllr James Bird, Conservative opposition spokesman for children’s services, said the first response team’s minutes proved that standards were not improving despite claims to the contrary.

“We are spending the money but we aren’t getting results in terms of improved quality,” he added.

Cllr Bird added that the absenteeism problem meant that a “small army” of people in social care were permanently off work.

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