Review tells Birmingham: Stop blaming social workers

LGA peer review challenges blame culture in Birmingham children's services

Birmingham council
Birmingham council (Credit: Rex/Neil Farrin/Robert Harding)

Birmingham Council’s blame the social worker culture must end if children’s services in the city are to improve.

A Local Government Association (LGA) ‘peer review’ of children’s services in Birmingham concluded that the council and its partners blame children’s social workers for the authority’s problems and that “this culture needs to be re-framed”.

In a letter to Birmingham’s strategic director of people services, Peter Hay, detailing the findings of the review, the LGA’s principal adviser for the West Midlands, Howard Davis, said: “Even the best social workers will struggle to operate in an environment where the supporting infrastructure is not fully geared to supporting and enabling them and where the culture is not conducive.”

Fixing barriers to good social work such as IT issues, supervision, caseloads and car parking would be a good first step to addressing this problem, the letter said.

The 15th January letter also called on the authority to take action within a matter of days to fix problems within the entry point into social services since these pose “an immediate risk to the safety of children and young people”.

The review team, which included Essex children’s services boss David Hill, also raised the alarm over suggestions that there were unallocated cases within the city’s children’s social services – claims they could not verify due to untimely and unreliable recording of data within the authority.

“It is symptomatic of the performance and workflow management issues in children’s services, but we are clear this is not simply a recording or data anomaly,” said the letter.

While the review praised Hay as a credible leader who is bringing a more open style to the council, it was less impressed by those around him.

It said that the team who supports him need to show more cohesion, urgency and leadership, warning that “current approaches are too dominated by individuals focusing on their immediate areas of responsibility”.

“People at this level need to demonstrate the willingness and ability to take wider responsibility,” wrote Davis.

The letter also called on Birmingham Council to set out a clear vision for how children and young people fit into the city’s future.

Despite the problems, the review did find some positive – if fragile – signs of improvement in Birmingham and concluded that the city’s children’s services could be turned around.

“Birmingham has the potential to improve and run a good, or even better, level of children’s services,” said the letter.

“There is a sense that the council and partners have lost some of their self-belief in this regard.

“Correspondingly, however, we do not accept that the culture, scale, diversity or any other aspect of the city can legitimately be used as an excuse for failure or diminished ambition.”

The findings of the review will be discussed by Birmingham City Council’s cabinet on 17 February.

Councillor Brigid Jones, the city’s cabinet member for children and family services, said: “I am grateful for the clarity and honesty of the peer review report, which clearly sets out where we are and what improvements still need to be made.

“The report acknowledges that the position here remains fragile – which is something we’ve been very clear on – but it also points to some really positive signs, saying that we have the potential to improve and run a good, or even better, level of children’s services.

“This is incredibly important to us, and I hope staff and partners can find courage in this.”

Children’s services in Birmingham have been rated inadequate by Ofsted for the past four years.

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