Children’s services in Birmingham to be run by independent trust

The council, which is at the centre of an undercover documentary to air this week, will set up a voluntary trust to run children's services

Birmingham council’s children’s services is to become an independent trust after not improving fast enough, it has been revealed.

A spokesperson for the council said it was “time to consider a model that has social workers at its centre”.

They added: “This is something we have been discussing for some time with the Department for Education and this is the next logical step on our improvement journey.

“In moving to the next phase, Birmingham city council and the Department for Education are committed to working together, along with our members, staff, partners and trade unions, on details of how the trust will operate

“As part of Birmingham City Council’s improvement journey it is the intention to move to a new model of children’s services – a voluntary trust.”

Now that the council has set out its intention to move towards a voluntary trust, a formal decision will need to be made by its cabinet.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said it recognised the children’s services had improved, but “we know this progress has not gone far enough, fast enough”.

“The council recognises this and that’s why we are working together to look at the steps that now need to be taken to make sure children and families in Birmingham receive the best possible care and support,” the spokesperson said.

Birmingham’s children’s services has been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in its last three inspections, and was described by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw as a “national disgrace” in 2013.

‘Social workers at its centre’

The council has had two different children’s commissioners since 2014. The most recent, Andrew Christie, is the executive director of children’s services in the Tri-Borough, which had two of its three children’s services rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted earlier this year.

“We are now at the start of the third year of our agreed improvement journey plan and it is acknowledged by our children’s services commissioner that expected progress has been made. Key to this has been putting families at the centre of social work. It is now the time to consider a model that has social workers at its centre,” the Birmingham spokesperson said.

Birmingham follows Sunderland in becoming a voluntary independent trust following intervention by the government. Two others, Doncaster and Slough, were forced into a trust model by ministers after the government deemed services were not being improved quickly enough in a local authority setting.

“The Prime Minister was clear that we cannot tolerate failure in children’s services. That is why we are looking at the best next steps including moving towards a voluntary trust,” the Department for Education spokesperson said.

The announcement that Birmingham will move to a trust model comes days before Channel 4’s Dispatches will air an undercover documentary at the council’s children’s services. Channel 4 said the film, which involved undercover filming by an “experienced social worker”, will reveal a “troubling picture of chaos, low staff morale and confused decision-making”.

Read: Inside the country’s first independent children’s trust.

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