Birmingham Council’s safeguarding children services are still inadequate according to Ofsted.
Despite some progress being made under the government’s improvement notice, the troubled council was still leaving some children at risk with poor identification of risk factors, and little accurate data on the state of active caseloads, the watchdog found.
Child protection plans were insufficiently clear and often unrealistic about outcome targets – for example, one plan required the parent to take responsibility for the safety of two children who were living at different addresses, the report stated.
The Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board had been overly “pre-occupied” with 20 serious case reviews over the past four years to take on a leadership role.
The report also noted that frontline social workers were feeling sidelined by the council’s high-profile, 15-year early intervention and prevention Brighter Futures Strategy.
“Despite energetic and visible leadership which is welcomed by staff, there is an emerging sense among some frontline social care managers and staff that they are isolated and detached from the exciting professional developments associated with the implementation of the Brighter Futures Strategy which has not yet produced services, particularly family support, essential to their work.
“This sense of disconnection, whether real or perceived, is generating the sense of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the demand for services and is inhibiting progress. Not all perceive the partnership to be giving at least equal priority to developing and maintaining a clear understanding of the challenges facing the existing service.”
The council’s ICS system continued to hamper social workers but work to improve the quality of the workforce, including the rapid improvement programme and recruitment, had all had some impact. The location of social workers in the children’s hospital had helped inter-agency working.
Birmingham’s ability to improve was also rated as inadequate because it did not have “an overall track record in achieving continuous improvement in service provision”.
However, Birmingham’s looked-after children services were rated as adequate with improvements in residential children’s care noted.
Children’s social care executive member Cllr Len Clark said the council had already reduced social worker caseloads by a third, transferring child-in-need cases to new family support teams. The council was accelerating the move of social work teams to modern and purpose-built offices and were drawing up blueprints for a longer-term remodelling of children’s social care, which is thought will be based on the Hackney model of social work teams.
“But there is no quick-fix to the problems faced in an authority the size of Birmingham,” he said.