Birmingham Children's Services 'inadequate' says Ofsted

Keanu Williams, two, died in 2011 after being found with 37 injuries

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Serious failures in Birmingham's Children's Services are continuing to leave young people at risk, Ofsted has found.

Over three months, the cases of 145 children were closed due to a lack of social workers, a report by the watchdog said.

The department has been rated inadequate since 2008.

Birmingham City Council said it "accepted and welcomed" the report and was working to address the issues.

The watchdog said there was not enough focus on children who need help and the most vulnerable children "continue to be failed".

It cited "long-standing" failures and "inadequate" structures for supporting social workers.

It did find, however, that the most serious cases involving at-risk children were dealt with quickly, and there had been "considerable effort" to improve the low social worker employment rate.

The report, released on Friday, is the latest in a string of inspections to criticise the department.

In March, Lord Warner was appointed as a special commissioner, reporting to the government, but working with the council to improve services for vulnerable children.

It followed concerns the department might be taken over directly by the government.

'Failing' social services: Timeline

  • May 2008: Khyra Ishaq, 7, starves to death in Handsworth
  • Feb 2009: Council served with improvement notice by government
  • Feb 2010: High Court rules Khyra was "failed by social services"
  • July 2010: Serious case review says Birmingham social services is still failing to protect children
  • Oct 2012: Ofsted rates council's child protection services "inadequate"
  • Oct 2013: Serious case review finds opportunities were missed to save Keanu Williams, two, who was beaten to death
  • Oct 2013: Ofsted singles out city's children's services as a "national disgrace"
  • Oct 2013: Council admits it has 106 social worker vacancies
  • Dec 2013: Council announces a £10m investment plan for children's services
  • Mar 2014: Council restructures social services and Lord Warner is appointed independent commissioner
  • May 2014: Council reveals more than a quarter of Birmingham's frontline social worker posts are unfilled

The latest inspection, which took place in March and April, identified a number of "serious weaknesses" in the authority's social care provision for young people.

'Entrenched failures'

In December, the council announced a £10m investment in children's services, despite wide-ranging cuts across the rest of the local authority.

The funding included 40 new social worker posts, although on 8 May the authority revealed more than 25% of all permanent frontline posts remained unfilled due to ongoing recruitment problems. Agency staff have been covering many of those positions.

Despite plans to improve safeguarding, Ofsted said there was a "significant an unaccountable delay" in implementing them.

"The legacy of poor management and practice in Birmingham Children's Services remain," Ofsted said.

"These failures have become so entrenched that despite recent efforts to improve management practice and outcomes the progress being made to date is too slow and has had little or no impact."

Lord Warner Lord Warner said a "good start" had been made on improvements

But inspectors also said staff reported better morale and reduced caseloads.

Analysis

The most depressing aspect of this report is how familiar and expected it is.

A lack of focus on children, with many left at risk, and a management culture that repeatedly fails its most vulnerable young people is embarrassing in the extreme.

In any other council, heads would roll.

But officials in Birmingham believe too much change and reorganisation is part of the problem.

Therefore they have vowed to tough out this criticism, keep to the plan they have put to the Department for Education and believe that in three years - at the latest - child protection in the city will have noticeably improved.

During the banking crisis, we became familiar with the phrase too big to fail.

We are going to find out if Birmingham is too big to succeed when it comes to protecting its children.

Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services, said the council had expected the inadequate rating and had been "very open" about the state of children's services in the city.

"The report's details build on the issues we had recognised ourselves as inadequate practice and which we shared with Ofsted on their arrival," she said.

Head of children's services Peter Hay said the council accepted the issues facing it and had already begun to address them.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore said there would be no "knee-jerk" response, and instead was focusing on "breaking the cycle" of failure.

Lord Warner said there had been a "good start" on improvements, but said there was "a long way to go".

In a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove, he said a three-year plan outlining a schedule for improvements would be presented to the Department for Education next month.

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