The government has ordered a review into how children’s social care could be delivered outside councils, on the same day a panel of experts was appointed to take control of improvements in Birmingham.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson today announced former health minister Lord Warner has been appointed to oversee improvements in Birmingham’s children’s services.
The move follows an independent review of the troubled department by London School of Economics professor Julian Le Grand.
The review found Birmingham’s plans to fix the problems were “worthy in intent” but too vague, and showed little evidence of actual improvement in services despite some of positive work by the city’s new director of children’s services Peter Hay.
“Over the course of my review I have seen considerable commitment to improve – and some green shoots of progress – but insufficient evidence of sustained and embedded change,” said Le Grand.
“It is essential that immediate action is taken to make children’s services safe, particularly around the concerns I raise in my report about insufficient leadership capacity, variable social work practice and referrals and high thresholds for identifying at risk children.”
He recommended an independent commissioner to advise on and challenge the council’s efforts to improve the service.
In a letter to Birmingham council leader Albert Bore, children’s minister Edward Timpson said he had accepted the recommendation and appointed Lord Warner as commissioner.
The Labour peer will be supported with advice from chief social worker Isabelle Trowler and a panel of experts, Timpson said.
Lord Warner said: “Birmingham’s vulnerable children deserve to receive the care and protection that they can rely on when the responsible adult has failed them.
“Over the coming months I will work with Birmingham City Council to put in place the immediate improvements needed to child protection arrangements and help them achieve sustainable change for the years ahead.”
The minister told the council it needs to produce recommendations on how to address the unidentified risk problem and strengthen senior management by the end of May. He also told the authority to work with the commissioner to develop a coherent plan for improving the service by June.
Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said she hoped the commissioner would support Birmingham to continue the progress it has made to stabilise a “deeply unstable situation”.
But she added: “A commissioner must not become yet another vehicle for the same political and management instability that Julian Le Grand’s report rightly highlights has long since bedevilled Birmingham’s children’s services.
Reacting to the news that ministers are considering how children’s services could be outsourced, Robb said: “Social workers in the city will be concerned at the report’s recommendation to review commissioning arrangements for children’s services, potentially not concluding until March 2015, imposing yet another period of review to likely to conclude until the end of 2014.