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Birmingham faces new rap for children's safeguarding

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Birmingham City Council has seen its children’s safeguarding services again branded as inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.

The council, which was among a cluster of councils that received the damning rating back in 2008, has been given the lowest possible grade for performance and prospects to improve in an inspection from last month.

Last week, Tony Howell, the authority’s strategic director for children, young people and families, said he would retire in January, when he will be 60.

The latest report from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, published today, is an inspection of safeguarding and looked-after children services.

It says that while some progress has been made at the authority since a government Improvement Notice was issued in February 2009 – particularly in areas prescribed by the notice – critical shortcomings still exist that mean that not all children are being safteguarded.

Inspectors said that weak or absent performance-management data meant that information about child protection cases was not being monitored or evaluated, while poor working practices were not being challenged.

They added that the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board had been “pre-occupied by business generated by 20 serious case reviews which have been undertaken over the past four years” and was not able to fulfil its over-arching professional remit. One of those reviews is for seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who was starved to death by her mother and stepfather after being taken out of school in the city.

Inspectors also said that Birmingham’s capacity to improve its safeguarding was “inadequate” because the city lacked a track record of continuous improvement and “Serious deficiencies in management and practice” remained across the partnership.

The city has been told to immediately take steps to understand in detail the deficiencies in its current performance, to move towards complying in full with statutory requirements for safe staffing, and to ensure that management decisions on children are recorded.

Over the longer term, the council has been advised to imrove its auditing in relation to safeguarding and to clarify roles with partner professionals across the city’s PCTs.

Birmingham’s children’s social care lead Len Clark (Con) said he accepted that more needed to be done to improve safeguarding and pledged an “immediate realignment” of the service would take place.

“We know we are not good enough yet, we know more needs to be done and we know what we have to do to improve,” he said.

“But there is no quick-fix solution to the problems faced in an authority the size of Birmingham.

“Birmingham has a track record of turning around services and there is determined political will to resolve this issue and achieve our goal – a world-class children’s social care service.”

Colin Tucker, who joined Birmingham as director of children’s social care from Sandwell MBC last year, said there was a “sense of frustration” at the pace of change within the city.

But he insisted that the city was attracting high numbers of competent and enthusiastic newly-qualified social workers, as well as high-quality managers.

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