Details of the findings from an undercover investigation into Birmingham children’s services have emerged.
The investigation, by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, sent an experienced social worker into the council’s children’s services undercover. According to programme-makers, the social worker found a “troubling picture of chaos” and overstretched social workers “struggling to cope”.
The programme will air tomorrow night at 10pm. Ahead of the screening, Dispatches revealed findings from its investigation. Channel 4 said these included:
- Some social workers failing to cope with high caseloads, and others not receiving appropriate supervision, while some announce intentions to quit.
- Concerns that serious cases where children could be at risk of sexual or physical abuse were not being handled properly.
- A junior social worker resigning after being “rushed to complete a special guardianship order” and being forced to “beg” for help from managers.
- Children’s services “descending into chaos as a reorganisation takes place”.
- A “ridiculous” scenario where social workers had to phone police in the same room to discuss cases, because they haven’t got the required security clearance.
Yesterday Birmingham council announced its decision to move children’s services out of local authority control and into an independent trust. A leaked email revealed the Dispatches findings led to that decision being brought forward by some months and there have been claims the council was pressured to act by the government.
Dispatches said the undercover social worker, referred to as Vicky, heard stories about the size of caseloads, and recorded concerns about trying to get a child protection investigation authorised.
Concerns about how social workers manage special guardianship orders will also be raised in the programme. In the documentary, a junior social worker tells Vicky how he wrote a special guardianship assessment in “3 to 4 weeks” and how he was “begging managers” to come to court to support him.
Responding to the Dispatches findings, a Birmingham council spokesperson said: “We recognise the historic and well-publicised failings of Birmingham’s children’s services and we are committed to improving the quality of social work practice. We still have a long way to go, but we consider that services are significantly better organized and more focused.
“Part of our improvement plan involved establishing more assessment teams and those teams are much more settled and stable now. Social worker morale has increased in the last year leading to a decrease in staff turnover.”
Yesterday a spokesperson for the council said shifting services into an independent trust would help and it was “time to consider a model that has social workers at its centre”.
Community Care is keen to hear practitioners’ views on the Dispatches programme. Email us here.