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Break up unweildly Birmingham children’s services, commission urges

Break up unweildly Birmingham children’s services, commission urges

🕔14.Oct 2014

Services for children and young people in Birmingham should be transferred out of the Council House to be run by the city’s ten district committees, an independent commission has recommended.

The latest contribution to the ‘Birmingham, is it too big?’ debate is contained in a report by a panel of experts funded by the city council and backed by the charity the Children’s Society.

The Birmingham Commission for Children’s report ‘It takes a city to raise a child’ found districts were the level at which the needs of children, young people and families could best be identified, resources harnessed and services planned across multiple agencies.

District committees run by local councillors and officials already have responsibility for a variety of devolved services and share budgets amounting to £100 million. But any move to place children’s services at district level would effectively turn the committees into mini town halls with huge budgets.

The suggestion cuts across a proposal by council leader Sir Albert Bore to establish four quadrant councils to run local services in Birmingham, under the direction of a city-wide strategic board.

Details of Sir Albert’s plan have been handed to Sir Bob Kerslake who has begun a wide-ranging review of the city council’s governance arrangements following the Trojan Horse scandal and a series of damning Ofsted reports.

The Children’s Commission, chaired by Janet Grauberg, former director of strategy for Barnardo’s and a former Liberal Democrat cabinet member for children’s services at Camden Council, was established in June to consider measures to improve children’s lives and well-being in ten years’ time.

The commission undertook its study against a backdrop of Birmingham children’s social services being in Government special measures for almost six years, having been declared inadequate by Ofsted and the Department for Education.

According to the commission report, inconsistent structuring of Birmingham’s services is harming partnership working. It said 14 safeguarding and family hubs were being set up but children’s centres were working on a 16 locality model and there were 19 health visiting teams.

The commission recommended that the council, working closely with the NHS, other statutory partners and the local safeguarding children’s board, should develop and implement an integrated strategy linking universal services, early help, targeted and specialist intervention together so professionals know how to access the support that is needed for any child.

The report raised concerns that organisations “struggled to get a seat at the table” where safeguarding decisions were being made, although some progress was being made with GPs in recognising and referring issues related to child sexual exploitation.

Private and voluntary sector providers said they had no regular point of contact within children’s services if they were worried about a child and had to use the main council switchboard number.

Its research also found that while the local safeguarding children board, a multi-agency panel that oversees child protection, had early help as one of its strategic priorities, it was unclear whether the board considered itself “responsible for leading the development of a strategy” in this area. No-one it spoke to had heard of the LSCB’s work in this area.

It found that although the responsibility for commissioning health visiting services is due to transfer to the local authority in April 2015, health visiting and early years staff did not think fully integrated working would be in place by that time.

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