Serious and widespread failings are still present in Birmingham children’s services despite some “significant improvements”, Ofsted inspectors have said.
The troubled service has been rated ‘inadequate’ overall again by the children’s social care watchdog in a re-inspection report published today. It found problems in services to help and protect children “had not been tackled effectively”.
Despite some improvements, Birmingham’s child protection response remained ‘inadequate’. Inspectors said the workforce in the multi-agency safeguarding hub was “over-reliant on agency staff”, which was leading to high turnover and new protocols and policies not being consistently understood or applied.
Unqualified referral officers
Inspectors also found that unqualified referral officers, who receive all of the referrals to the service and make follow-up enquiries and telephone calls, were “unclear about what is expected of them”.
“The number of contacts is increasing, but many do not lead to a referral,” inspectors said. “Decisions are being made on the basis of incomplete information and there is an over-reliance on unqualified workers to signpost the process contacts. This results in missed opportunities to correctly identify needs and ensure that there is the right response.”
The report noted that the percentage of permanent staff has improved and vacancy rates and turnover over reduced.
“Senior leaders and politicians have worked hard, invested considerable resources and reconfigured services to ensure that there is a strengthened focus on improvement, and this inspection has found some significant improvements in a range of services as a result,” inspectors said.
“However, key areas of service provision are continuing to fail children and families, and where progress is being made further work is required to ensure that services are of good quality.”
Ofsted found that recent investment meant more effective supervision was happening.
“Caseloads are manageable, and social workers are spending more time with children. An increased use of direct work by social workers with some children is starting to improve their outcomes,” inspectors said.
But Ofsted said Birmingham needs to improve management oversight, ensure appropriate application of thresholds and reduce the backlog of unassessed domestic abuse notifications.
The council said the results of the inspection matched where it expected to be at this stage in its improvement journey.
Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children, families and schools in Birmingham, said: “There are areas that we have improved to the next rating, earlier than expected. I see this as a positive report in the context of where we expected to be.
“We now have well-motivated staff with manageable caseloads; our social workers know their children and listen to them. There is a coherent model and good staff development. We have skilled and experienced social workers who are doing their job well.”
Earlier this year, Birmingham City Council decided to transfer its children’s services to an independent trust.
It was announced today that Andrew Christie, executive director of children’s services for the London Tri-Borough local authorities, would become the trust’s chair. Dave Hill, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, will replace Christie as Birmingham’s commissioner. Appointed by the Department for Education, Hill will continue to help Birmingham’s improvement journey.
Andrew Christie, incoming chair of the proposed trust, said the new model would be an opportunity for real change: “It will add to the capacity of the leadership, bring a sharp focus to continuing to improve social work practice, and bring a real transformational change.”