Birmingham Council’s scrutiny committee has detailed a catalogue of faults in its children’s services, including a staff sickness rate of seven times the national average.
A report commissioned in the wake of the baby Peter case – and just before Birmingham was served with an improvement notice after a critical annual performance assessment – calls for children’s services to become the council’s top funding priority.
At least eight children known to social services, including seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq (pictured), have died in Birmingham since 2005.
Committee members were “shocked and dismayed” at working conditions. Many social workers were in buildings where toilets were not cleaned regularly, had no storage capacity for files and were overcrowded.
This was having a far bigger impact than pay on morale, recruitment and retention, the committee said. More than 20% of 700 full-time equivalent staff were off sick at any one time, and nearly half of all teams had a level of underperformance or undercapacity. Combined with an over-reliance on agency staff, this was costing the council about £30m a year. In addition, more than half of all case files for looked-after children were unacceptably poor and more than one-third of practitioners working on children’s cases were unqualified.
Wide variations of performance management
Too few senior managers with too little training had also contributed to the wide variations of performance management across the city, added the report, Who Cares? Protecting Children and Improving Children’s Social Care.
In general, the committee said Birmingham’s model of children’s social services was not “fit for purpose”, nor was it coping with the substantial increase in referrals since the baby Peter case in Haringey.
Lack of progress
Although many of the issues had already been identified by managers, the committee was concerned at the lack of progress in fixing them and the piecemeal approach.
The report recommended urgent investment in social worker accommodation, IT and management systems, training, assessment of managers, and development of family support services as an alternative to child protection or children-in-care services.
A Birmingham spokesperson said the council had accepted the findings.
Read the full report