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Birmingham children's services 'should be devolved'

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Statutory services for children and young people in Birmingham should be run at the level of the area’s 10 districts, an independent commission has recommended.

Birmingham Commission for Children, a panel of experts backed by the charity the Children’s Society and funded by Birmingham City Council, has said the authority should organise services for children and young people as far as possible on the level of its 10 districts.  

These districts match the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies and each is represented by a “district committee”. The committees, composed of ward councillors, make decisions about services including sports and leisure, libraries, community safety and youth services.  

The report comes as a panel of council chief executives and elected members, led by Sir Bob Kerslake, embarks on a wide-ranging review of the authority’s governance in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal and a series of highly critical Ofsted reports.

The five-person commission, chaired by Janet Grauberg, former director of strategy for Barnardo’s and a former Liberal Democrat cabinet member for children’s services at Camden LBC, was established in June to consider measures to improve children’s lives and wellbeing in 10 years’ time.

Its report – It takes a city to raise a child – found districts were the level at which the needs of children, young people and families could be identified, resources harnessed and services planned across multiple agencies.

The commission found the inconsistent structuring of Birmingham’s services was unhelpful to partnership working. It said 14 safeguarding and family hubs were being set up but children’s centres were working on a 16 locality model and there were 19 health visiting teams.

The commission recommended that the council, working closely with the NHS, other statutory partners and the local safeguarding children’s board, should develop and implement an integrated strategy linking universal services, early help, targeted and specialist intervention together so professionals know how to access the support that is needed for any child.

The report raised concerns that organisations “struggled to get a seat at the table” where safeguarding decisions were being made, although some progress was being made with GPs in recognising and referring issues related to child sexual exploitation.

Private and voluntary sector providers said they had no regular point of contact within children’s services if they were worried about a child, and had to use the main council switchboard number.

Its research also found that while the local safeguarding children board, a multi-agency panel that oversees child protection, had early help as one of its strategic priorities, it was unclear whether the board considered itself “responsible for leading the development of a strategy” in this area. No one it spoke to had heard of the LSCB’s work in this area.

It found that although the responsibility for commissioning health visiting services was due to transfer to the local authority in April 2015, health visiting and early years staff did not think fully integrated working would be in place by that time.

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