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‘Inadequate’ Birmingham social services still failing children at risk

‘Inadequate’ Birmingham social services still failing children at risk

🕔19.Oct 2012

Birmingham children’s social services will spend a fifth year under Government special measures after Ofsted found the troubled city council department was still failing to protect hundreds of the city’s most vulnerable young people.

Ministers first issued an Improvement Notice in February 2009, declaring that protection arrangements for children at risk of sexual and violent abuse were not good enough.

Three further visits by the watchdog resulted in similarly bleak findings against the backdrop of several high-publicity child deaths in Birmingham – most notably, seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was starved to death by her mother and stepfather despite being on the books of social services.

The results of a fourth unannounced inspection by Ofsted last month are published today.

Inspectors registered familiar concerns about “endemic” poor quality of practice by social workers, bad management and a lack of “robust strategic leadership”.

Children’s services were found to be inadequate in all of the four categories under consideration – overall effectiveness; helping and protecting young people; quality of social work practice; leadership and governance.

The only glimmer of hope came from Ofsted’s firm support for Birmingham’s latest Director of Children’s Services, Peter Duxbury, who was credited with accelerating the pace of change needed to deliver improvements since his arrival at the beginning of the year.

Ofsted also found a “step change in momentum” over the past few months, a period coinciding with the change of political control at the council from Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to Labour.

A report detailing the inspectors’ findings makes uncomfortable reading former coalition leaders, and for other public sector partners responsible for delivering improvements, including the police, health trusts and the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board:

“Leadership and governance arrangements are inadequate. Since the initial improvement notice was issued, the pace of change in making the improvements necessary has been too slow. There has been an absence of consistent leadership and strategic oversight to take forward the improvement plan.”

Ofsted’s main findings were:

  • Too many children left for too long without a robust assessment by social workers, leaving some young people at risk of harm.
  • Social workers failing to carry out statutory duties to regularly visit children on protection plans.
  • Ineffective partnership work in helping to tackle areas of poor quality practice ‘endemic’ in Birmingham.
  • Failure to address cultural issues that affect the behaviour of parents towards children.

The council has been ordered by Ofsted to comply immediately with statutory requirements for protecting children in need and to ensure that every child requiring help is properly assessed.

City council leader Sir Albert Bore described the report as “very distressing” and admitted it was unacceptable that services for children in Birmingham should be so poor. It was regrettable that improvements noted by Ofsted during 2011 had slowed or reversed during the first half of 2012.

He was convinced, however, that the city was “moving in the right direction” and that the next Ofsted inspection would record a marked improvement.

Sir Albert said all of the Ofsted recommendations were being actively addressed and he expects to meet Government Ministers to discuss the inspectors’ report within the next few weeks. He does not envisage civil servants taking direct control of social services from Whitehall, but stressed that the latest report was “a warning shot across our bows”.

He added: “We are clear about what needs to be done and we have already put systems in place, such as intensive training programmes so staff learn from our best managers, improved risk management and helping partners understand how best to give quality referrals.

“It is important to recognise the difficult job done by our frontline staff but it is also important to acknowledge that the service provided by all of us is not good enough. There must be significant improvement over the next 12 months.”

Ofsted’s latest denunciation follows four years of upheaval at the top of Birmingham Children’s Services, which saw Strategic Director Tony Howell take early retirement, to be replaced by a transitional director, Eleanor Brazil, reportedly paid £1,000 a day.

Ms Brazil lasted for two years, finally being replaced by Mr Duxbury.

Her leadership coincided with the appointment of Colin Tucker as Director of Children’s Social Services with a remit to shake-up the department. He left after just 18 months in the hot seat.

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