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Damning Ofsted report: Birmingham children’s social services ‘entrenched’ with failure, and little sign of improvement

Damning Ofsted report: Birmingham children’s social services ‘entrenched’ with failure, and little sign of improvement

🕔23.May 2014

Children’s social services in Birmingham remain inadequate and failure is now “entrenched” with little sign of improvement, a damning report by Ofsted has concluded.

The worst fears of the city council were confirmed today when the watchdog published details of its latest report and concluded that “the most vulnerable children in Birmingham continue to be failed by the local authority”.

After more than five years under special measures, the council is still letting down vulnerable young people at risk of sexual or physical assault and has failed to “robustly risk assess” more than 400 children in need cases more than two months after being reported.

Ofsted inspectors criticised the council for closing “a significant number” of suspected child abuse cases without undertaking appropriate risk assessments. “This means that some children have not received an appropriate response or intervention to ensure their safety,” the Ofsted report found.

In a stark assessment of failure, Ofsted said: “Long standing and historical corporate and political failures continue to impact upon the current political and professional leadership of children’s services in Birmingham. In addition, inadequate strategic partnership arrangements have undermined a range of initiatives to improve services.

“Systems and processes are neither child-centred nor fit for purpose and do not support social workers in keeping a clear focus on children in most parts of the service. Significant deficits, including poor management oversight, poor assessment of risk and lack of understanding and implementation of thresholds, lead to some children being left at continuing risk of significant harm.

“The legacy of poor management and practice in Birmingham children’s services remain. These failures have become so entrenched that, despite recent efforts to improve management practice and outcomes, the progress being made to date is too slow and has had little or no impact.”

The watchdog hit out at “too many false dawns” that have raised expectations but have ultimately failed to deliver adequate care and protection for vulnerable children in Birmingham.

The report continued: “Although there are a range of plans and strategies in place to improve safeguarding and care for children and young people, there has been a significant and unaccountable delay in implementation.

“As a consequence, help and support to the most vulnerable children and young people in Birmingham continues to be inadequate.

“There is a widespread lack of understanding about thresholds in and between children’s social care services and their partners. This, combined with a lack of confidence in decision making, undermines any attempt to improve the quality of services.

“Children and young people have been left at risk of harm for too long before being protected by the care system. Timely decisions are not taken when children and young people need to be cared for by the local authority.

“Inconsistent management oversight of social workers practice leads to a lack of focus on outcomes for children and young people. Children are sometimes left at risk of significant harm for too long without timely intervention. Some agencies fail to share information on children about whom they are concerned.”

Just about the only optimistic part of the report was an admission that social worker morale is at last improving following the latest senior management reshuffle, which saw Peter Hay take over as strategic director.

Ofsted has set the following priorities for the council:

– Strengthen operational and senior management arrangements so that there is sufficient capacity and experience to tackle the deficiencies in the service.

– Ensure that strategic and operational management oversight is effective, including supervision and that case file audit arrangements are robust so that workers have a full understanding of their roles and responsibilities and deliver work of a consistently high standard.

– Improve performance management and information systems to ensure that managers at all levels have timely, relevant and accurate performance information to enable them to do their job effectively and deliver improvements.

– Strengthen governance arrangements between the local authority and its partners, to enable effective and coherent strategic relationships to be developed with defined accountabilities and responsibilities.

– Ensure that draft plans that have been designed to support strategic and operational practice are accompanied by appropriate delivery arrangements.The report is likely to provide further ammunition to Education Secretary Michael Gove who is already considering removing direct responsibility for running children’s social services from the city council.Cllr Brigid Jones, the cabinet member for children and family services, said the tone of the report was what she had expected.

– Mr Gove earlier this year appointed an education commissioner, Lord Normal Warner, to oversee an improvement programme.

– The council has been ordered to take urgent action to make sure all cases of children who have not been allocated a social worker are risk-assessed that the large number of children in need cases that have been closed as part of the recent system cleansing process are reviewed, and that outstanding concerns and risks to children and young people are identified and responded to appropriately.

Cllr Jones added: “The report’s details build on the issues we had recognised ourselves as inadequate practice and which we shared with Ofsted on their arrival. This is welcome but we will not let the focus on current performance distract us from the tailor-made approach to improvement put in place by the Department for Education; an approach set out by the DfE during this latest Ofsted inspection.

She added that Lord Warner’s first report to Mr Gove described the council as making a good start in improving services.

Cllr Jones added: “I would echo this view. In fact, when we responded to Lord Warner’s appointment in March I was absolutely clear that we must not be dragged back into short-term thinking as a knee-jerk response to a poor Ofsted report, and I stand by those comments. Such a response would destroy the hard work put in by so many to stabilise the service over the last few months, and set us back very significantly in getting our service to the standard our children deserve.”

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