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Triborough children's chief pledges 'step change' in Birmingham

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Andrew Christie has been announced as the chair of the children’s trust currently being developed by Birmingham City Council, on the day an Ofsted report identified ongoing failings in the city’s services.

Mr Christie, who until recently was executive director of children’s services at the triborough in London, was appointed Birmingham’s commissioner by the Department of Education last year.

The commissioner role will now be carried out by Dave Hill, executive director for people at Essex CC and president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

Ofsted has repeatedly identified failings in Birmingham’s children’s services over the past decade.

The latest inspection during September and October have resulted in an inadequate rating for the city council’s children’s services being announced today. However, some improvements since the previous inspection in March 2014 were identified.

Leadership, management and governance were highlighted as a significant weakness, while support for looked after children and placements were judged to require improvement.

The report acknowledged that senior leaders and politicians had worked hard, invested “considerable resources” and reconfigured services to strengthen a focus on improvement, resulting in “significant improvements in a range of services”.

But Ofsted found key service areas were continuing to fail children and “significant barriers” to improvement remained, including inconsistency in frontline management, weak strategic planning to tackle child sexual exploitation and limited analysis of performance to develop services.

In conclusion, the report said: “This re-inspection has identified that serious and widespread failings in some services to help and protect children have not yet been tackled effectively.”

The council took a voluntary decision in May 2016 to move its children’s social care services into a trust model.

Two models are currently under consideration. These are a limited company or an employee-owned mutual.

Both the Commons education committee and the National Audit Office have been critical of the trust model, claiming there is currently a lack of evidence of improved outcomes for children.

But Mr Christie, who oversaw the first children’s services to be rated outstanding under the single inspection framework in Kensington & Chelsea RBC and Westminster City Council, said the establishment of a trust in Birmingham would be a “real step change”.

He added: “It will add to the capacity of the leadership, bring a sharp focus to continuing to improve social work practice and bring a real transformational change.”

Brigid Jones (Lab), Birmingham’s cabinet member for children, families and schools, said the council expected to receive an inadequate rating two years into a three year improvement plan.

She said the long-term failings were caused by a lack of political will over a number of years to provide sufficient investment in children’s services.

Cllr Jones said this led to insufficient numbers of social workers being employed, resulting in high caseloads and reduced quality of services.

She added: “We now have well-motivated staff with manageable caseloads; our social workers know their children and listen to them.

“There is a coherent model and good staff development. We have skilled and experienced social workers who are doing their job well.”

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