Ofsted has given children’s social care in Birmingham a mixed bill of health following its latest monitoring visit, noting “progress” in some areas but warning of a “lack of focus” in others.
The regulator’s check-in focused on children leaving care, and those living in long-term fostering arrangements. It was the fifth since the West Midlands authority’s last ‘inadequate’ judgment, in 2016, and the first since services were handed over to an independent trust.
Inspectors found a number of areas worthy of praise. They noted that all 18-year-olds were now allocated personal advisors, who were adept at offering a range of assistance, including via a new therapeutic care leavers support service (TESS) team.
A new pathway plan format, in which young people’s voices and aspirations were “readily apparent”, marked a significant step forward, Ofsted said.
Housing options and efforts for keeping in touch with young people were found to be competent. The trust was also deemed to be delivering an appropriate focus – though not yet backed by results – on young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).
Insufficient attention to long-term cases
In services for children in long-term care, inspectors found several positive areas of practice. Arrangements were mostly stable, with “many children” benefiting from having kept the same social worker and independent reviewing officer (IRO) for the duration of their placement.
But Ofsted observed that some social workers, who were balancing cases of children in long-term care with others in the midst of proceedings, were struggling to deliver appropriate attention to both groups.
“Longer-term cases are not being seen with the same priority and focus on practice,” the monitoring report said, despite social workers having “reasonable” caseloads.
Inspectors also identified issues with contact arrangements, finding that “arrangements of up to 12 times a year for multiple family members were evident in many cases, and in some for [people] who had harmed the child”.
A “lack of recognition and action” by managers and IROs around this issue was heightening the risk of placements breaking down, Ofsted said. Inspectors also observed missed opportunities to consider children for special guardianship orders, while auditing was narrowly focused on “compliance, with little evidence of enquiry into qualitative issues.”
‘Tangible evidence of improvements’
Andy Couldrick, the chief executive of Birmingham Children’s Trust, described the report as “encouraging”.
“As a trust we benefit from having one focus – that of improving outcomes for our children, young people and families,” Couldrick said. “We acknowledge there is still work to do, but we are seeing tangible evidence of improvements after every Ofsted visit and I want to thank our staff for their continued hard work.”
Kate Booth, cabinet member for children’s wellbeing at Birmingham council, said she was “pleased” the city’s children’s services were making progress.
“It is good to see that our social workers commitment in continuing to support our young people to develop both academically and vocationally has been noted,” Booth added.