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Fourth director in four years to drive Birmingham children’s services improvement plan

Fourth director in four years to drive Birmingham children’s services improvement plan

🕔26.Aug 2014

It didn’t get much media coverage – the announcement was slipped out in the middle of the holiday season – but Birmingham council has appointed yet another high-flying official with a view to turning around the city’s failing children’s social services.

Bernadette McNally will be the fourth person in four years to fill one of the most challenging jobs in local government – and she will know that some of her predecessors didn’t last very long before they departed “by mutual consent”.

Ms McNally, currently in charge of social services at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, is Birmingham’s new executive director of children’s services and will work under Lord Norman Warner, the government-appointed commissioner overseeing the social services improvement plan.

Placed in special measures since 2008 for failing to care for vulnerable children, Birmingham has been the subject of several highly critical Ofsted reports and a DfE review last year by Professor Julian Le Grand which concluded that the latest improvement plan simply wasn’t working and couldn’t even be understood by the professionals who were supposed to be implementing it.

Since 2009, the position of director of children’s social services in Birmingham has been filled by:

  • Colin Tucker: left by mutual agreement in April 2011, less than two years after being appointed. The council said he hadn’t delivered improvements quickly enough.
  • Eleanor Brazil: appointed interim director on a 12-month contract in 2011. The contract was extended for 18 months, and Ms Brazil was reportedly paid £1,000 a day.
  • Peter Duxbury: took over from Ms Brazil in April 2012. He left by mutual agreement after 15 months in the hot seat.
  • Peter Hay: The current Strategic Director of People, he assumed direct responsibility for children’s social services when Mr Duxbury left. Mr Hay remains strategic director and will be Ms McNally’s new boss.

A glance at the Chamberlain Files archive gives an indication of the pressure that Ms McNally will be under to deliver improvement. Headlines have included we’ve still no idea about needs of all children at risk, admits social services chief, social services improvement plans were bonkers and children’s social services entrenched with failure.

Ofsted’s latest report, based on an inspection in Birmingham at the start of 2014, contained the watchdog’s most outspoken analysis of the problems yet: “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.

“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.”

Julian Le Grand’s report, published in February 2014 at the request of the Secretary of State for Education, described the council’s various social services improvement plans as “worthy in intent but either aspirational in tone and vague in specific content, or immensely detailed but lacking in strategic overview.”

Le Grand concluded that the capacity of Mr Hay to deliver improvements in social care on top of his other duties was “very stretched” and recommended appointing a single person to take responsibility for all children’s social care services.

Six months later, Ms McNally has been chosen to fulfil that role.

She will “drive through the improvement agenda, ensuring proper oversight of a substantial change programme as agreed by the city’s children’s commissioner Lord Warner”, according to the council.

Birmingham city council chief executive Mark Rogers described Ms McNally as an “experienced strategic planner and innovative thinker”.

Mr Rogers added: “Bernadette has demonstrated a clear child focus in all the roles she has occupied and it is notable that it was for her services to children and social work that she was recognised with the award of an OBE in 2011.  These characteristics make her ideally suited to the job she will be doing here in the city.”

Ms McNally said: “I am very honoured to have been offered such a responsible position in Birmingham, I’m delighted to be moving to such a new and exciting city, where I know I will feel welcome and where I look forward to working with everyone associated with improving the lives of children in Birmingham.”

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