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Last chance saloon as Birmingham launches another children’s social care plan

Last chance saloon as Birmingham launches another children’s social care plan

🕔12.Dec 2013

Cover Image: Professor Le Grand via Vimeo

Birmingham City Council has taken a further step into the ‘last chance saloon’ with the latest in a series of attempts to convince Ofsted and the Government that the future of children’s social services and schools is safe in its hands.

Sir Albert Bore, the council leader, cabinet member Brigid Jones, and Peter Hay, strategic director for children’s services, faced the media today with the skeleton of another improvement plan which the three are hoping will persuade Education Secretary Michael Gove to allow the local authority to retain control of services for vulnerable young people.

Three experts appointed by Ofsted, led by Professor Julian Le Grand, are set to inspect children’s social services in Birmingham and their findings, to be delivered by the middle of February, will play a crucial role in helping to make up Mr Gove’s mind.

Birmingham children’s social services have been under “special measures” and working to Government-approved improvement plans for more than four years, but the department is still ranked as inadequate.

Ofsted inspections uncovered poor social work practice, soaring staff sickness levels, constant changes in middle and senior management and a failure to meet improvement targets.

The latest attempt to turn things around – an Integrated Transformation Strategy – is based on addressing one of the key flaws afflicting Birmingham children’s social care, and that is the failure of public agencies to share information and work together.

Most Serious Case Reviews into child deaths in Birmingham, including those dealing with tots Khyra Ishaq and Keanu Williams, identified a chronic lack of joined up working by the council, police, schools and the NHS. Children at risk were simply slipping through the net and dying because the agencies did not talk to each other.

The new strategy will revolve around an integrated commissioning board bringing together every public agency that has an involvement with children. The board will operate through 10 hubs based on Birmingham’s district committees and will be overseen by councilors.

Sir Albert said the aim was to remove children’s social care from its “silo existence” and introduce an integrated service focusing on “the entire life journey of a child”.

Two major reviews, funded by Capita, will examine the future of education and early years’ services.

In addition, the Labour-led council has identified a one-off £10 million contribution to address historic under-funding of children’s services as well as a £6 million a year budget increase.

Sir Albert denied that the integrated approach was a new version of previous improvement plans, which have all stressed the need for multi-agency working. He also said that the latest recovery plan would be the last opportunity for the council to convince the Government that it was on the right track.

He said: “I believe this plan is dramatically different. We are setting out our stall for the Le Grand team and there is a very clear view of what it is we are trying to do.

“We have had a silo-based approach in the past with the children’s safeguarding part of the directorate trying to go it alone. That hasn’t worked.

“We need to engage with schools, with health visitors, with the NHS and with the police as well as universities and the Children’s Society.”

Two of the trio of experts due in Birmingham next month  – Professor Le Grand and Alan Wood, director of children’s services at Hackney – produced a report for Mr Gove criticising a “culture of failure” at Doncaster children’s services. Mr Gove subsequently agreed to hand responsibility for the service to an independent trust.

Professor Le Grand and Mr Wood will be joined in Birmingham by Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker.

Birmingham children’s social services have been under “special measures” and working to Government-approved improvement plans for more than four years, but the department is still ranked as inadequate. Earlier this year Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools Sir Michael Wilshire, branded Birmingham one of the worst places in the developed world for children to grow up in.

The prospect of Mr Gove deciding in the run up to next May’s municipal elections to remove social services from the local authority’s control has alarmed members  of the council’s controlling Labour group. Chamberlain Files reported earlier this month that Sir Albert had been working on a plan to transfer children’s services to an independent trust – a project abandoned after the visit by Professor Le Grand and his team was confirmed.

Sir Albert told the Labour group that he was no longer considering the independent trust option since he hoped to persuade Children’s Minister Ed Timpson that the council has a recovery plan in place capable of turning around children’s care.

He was confident of persuading three experts appointed by Mr Timpson that improvements to services for vulnerable youngsters are in place and that progress is being made.

Mr Timpson has asked for a report from Professor Le Grand advising him whether the council’s improvement plans are sufficient and “what alternatives might be appropriate”.

Sir Albert and Mr Hay made it clear today that they had rejected proposals to split up Birmingham social services into three or four separate units. Plans to establish a trust were also rejected.

Mr Hay said he believed staff morale at children’s services had turned the corner.

More social workers are being recruited and about 10 employees who handed their notices in had been persuaded to stay on.

“We have an approach of honesty and integrity. We are involved in a major transformation programme. This is a fundamental break with the past,” Mr Hay added.

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