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The Children’s Triumvirate: a quick guide to the expert panel reviewing Birmingham’s social services

The Children’s Triumvirate: a quick guide to the expert panel reviewing Birmingham’s social services

🕔08.Jan 2014

This week a team of experts is starting its review of Birmingham City Council’s improvement plans for Children’s social services. The Chamberlain Files provides a brief profile of the trio appointed by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson MP. 

Professor Julian Le Grand is leading the team investigating the council’s children’s services. A Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics since 1993, and former advisor to Downing Street under Tony Blair, Le Grand has popularised arguments for competition in social policy on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum.

Le Grand describes himself as the ‘principal architect‘ of the UK Government’s current public service reforms introducing choice and competition into healthcare and education, citing the Pupil Premium and Children’s Trust Fund as evidence of his influence in policy development. He is an expert in education and health policy, and widely respected as an intellectual in social policy across the political spectrum.

In March 2013, Le Grand was directed by the Secretary of State to undertake an investigation into improving children’s social care services in Doncaster. His report found repeated failings in the Council’s attempts to improve services. The panel’s report recommended that services either: i) be externally procured or ii) be taken over by an external organisation such as a Trust. Birmingham City Council’s biggest fear is that he does so again in his latest review.

Isabelle Trowler took up her post as Chief Social Worker for Children in September 2013. The role of chief social worker was recommended in the 2011 Munro review of child protection to give the profession “greater visibility and voice”. Originally advertised as a single post, the government eventually created two jobs that would work collaboratively, with Trowler taking the Children and Families brief, while Lyn Romeo took the Adults portfolio.

Trowler qualified at LSE and went onto hold a number of posts in both the voluntary and  public sector, most notably as Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care in Hackney and later as Director of Morning Lane Associates. Trowler is accredited with co-founding the ‘Hackney model’ or ‘Reclaiming Social Work’ where small teams each operate under the supervision of a consultant social worker and with dedicated administrative support.

Alan Wood is Director of Children Services for Hackney Council, having also held a number of directorships and chairmanships in the field across Londonand been honoured for his work improving Hackney services. Wood has overseen the ‘transformation’ of social services in Hackney by helping to implement Trowler’s ‘Reclaiming Social Work’ model. He explains:

“Hackney has transformed many of its services over the last 10 years. Surveys of residents rate council services very highly. It is a dynamic place for social workers to practice and child protection is highly supported by our excellent schools, creative universal and targeted youth support, a dynamic voluntary sector and many partners who together support children and families.”

The councils services have “far fewer senior managers, an emphasis on distributive leadership, differentially sized units, greater focus on clinical input, better IT systems to minimise bureaucracy and greater integration of business support.”

Due to his practical expertise in the field, Wood also formed part of the team instructed to investigate Doncaster. However, Trowler and Wood are also careful not proselytize the Hackney model as a panacea to other Council’s difficulties.

The panel investigating Birmingham City Council’s children’s services has two principal terms of reference: i) an assessment of progress in Children’s Services to date and ii) assess the likelihood of improvement under current governance arrangements. In accordance with these terms, the panel can make recommendations on the future governance arrangements and structure of service provision in the city.

To lose control of social services would be a significant blow to both the political and executive leadership of the council, so they will want to impress upon the panel  that the situation is under control. The news of Mark Rogers’ appointment, with his experience in Children’s Services, in addition to the highly respected Peter Hay as Strategic Director, is in part likely to be an attempt to flag that Birmingham City Council has the leadership and expertise going forward to dramatically improve services.

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