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Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board admits it is ‘inadequate’

Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board admits it is ‘inadequate’

🕔20.Oct 2014

The statutory body responsible for overseeing Birmingham children’s services has admitted it is making inadequate progress and warned that too many young people are still not safe or getting the help they require.

In its annual report the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board says that despite some progress towards the end of 2014 under the leadership of Lord Warner, the Government-appointed Education Commissioner, the Board “still has a lot to do to become effective”.

“Some children and young people got an amazing service but for others they were left without support and at risk. This began to show improvements in the last quarter of the year,” the BSCB report states.

While risks to the most vulnerable children have been identified and their needs are now being addressed, the document outlines areas where services remained inadequate in March 2014:

  • Risk still unidentified for an unknown number of children and young people.
  • Still no overarching Early Help strategy.
  • There are still serious problems with developing an effective approach to children at risk of sexual exploitation and missing children.
  • Significant numbers of children are not receiving an adequate service.

The report was written against a backdrop of ongoing turmoil for Birmingham children’s services.

The city council’s children’s social services department has been under Government special measures since 2009 after four Ofsted inspections found performance to be inadequate.

In July 2013, the council’s director of children’s services, Peter Duxbury, resigned unexpectedly.

By March 2014 Birmingham, including the Board and partners, had been subject to five different review and inspection processes in five months culminating in the appointment of Lord Warner as the external commissioner charged with overseeing rapid improvement.

It emerged last week that the council’s latest attempt to find someone to turn the failing department around had backfired. Bernie McNally, who was to have started work next month as children’s services director, decided not to take the job after visiting Birmingham for an induction period.

The safeguarding board’s view of the year is set out in the report: “Many of the key challenges identified half way through 2013-14 remained unresolved by the end of the year. This was seriously affected by the major disruptions in the summer of 2013, and then by the degree of external scrutiny imposed on the city.

“However progress was being made as the system began to stabilise and became clearer.

“It is equally clear that were still some areas of poor practice, and that although progress was being made, by March 2014 there were still significant numbers of children and young people who were not safe, were not getting the support they needed or who were not known about or identified as at risk in the first place.

“Early help was limited, the degree of unidentified risk a major concern, the front door arrangements were unsafe, child protection processes were not timely, cases were not allocated to social workers, health visitor caseloads were high, there were significant vacancy levels in some professional groups, and under-capacity in others and parts of the system did not trust other parts.

“The Board is still very clear that despite the progress made over the year the Board was not, at March 2014 adequate.”

The size of the safeguarding board, which has 45 members as well as 12 sub-groups for specialist areas, has been criticised. Attendance at some of the sub-groups is described as “particularly poor” in the annual report.

Lord Warner in his first report to the Education Minister, said: “I have growing concerns about the effectiveness of the Safeguarding Board, particularly the size and its apparent lack of capacity to resolve problems across different agencies.”

Ofsted drew a similar conclusion in its May 2014 report, stating that “effective partnership working is not yet developed and remains a significant challenge for the Board”, before adding: “Frontline practice has not demonstrated significant improvements in response to the Board’s influence.”

Persuading all partner organisations in Birmingham to work together in delivering the improvement plan remains a problematical area. The report notes: “There was an improved performance by all partners in terms of attendance at child protection case conferences but it was still not good enough to ensure risk was fully and properly understood and information properly shared at those conferences.

“The West Midlands Child Protection Protocol was under development during this period, alongside work to strengthen the attendance of staff by each Board partner. This was not having a demonstrable impact by the end of March 2014.”

BSCB chair Jane Held said: “Whilst the Board made considerable progress over the year, it was from a low base and the Board was still assessed as inadequate at the end of 2013/14.

“This assessment reflected our own view of the progress we had made over the year. It has redoubled my determination to drive forward urgent action to improve how well the Board functions, and to make improvement work.

“This is imperative if the children and young people of the city are to get the services they deserve, achieve their potential, remain safe and become fully rounded and responsible adults. I believe we owe it to the children of the city, their families and communities to be as open, and transparent as possible about how we are doing.”

Sir Albert Bore, the leader of Birmingham city council, said: “Things have moved on. Lord Warner has been very busy and there is a different pace and direction of travel on safeguarding matters.”

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