Birmingham Children Are At Risk
CHILDREN at risk of abuse or neglect in a Birmingham area with the worst child deprivation rate in Britain have not been seen by health visitors for THREE YEARS.
And experts fear the delay could leave potentially scores of vulnerable youngsters – including those living in domestic violence situations – in danger.
A shock report to the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust shows some kids in Ladywood have not been seen by members of the children’s service since 2005.
Its authors blame the current 22 per cent vacancy rate for health visitors and school nurses on a national shortage of such staff – as well as “poor performance and behaviour issues” amongst existing workers.
The trust also provides GPs, health visitors, and community health services for other deprived inner-city areas including Aston, Sparkbrook, Soho, Lozells, Nechells and Perry Barr.
According to the report, the trust’s children’s service is currently dealing with DOUBLE the number of domestic abuse cases referred for social work assessment, a workload added to by the staff shortages.
It says: “The children’s service started experiencing significant difficulties recruiting to health visitor and school nurse positions over two years ago. However, this situation has deteriorated extensively over the last 12 months.
“The service currently has a vacancy rate of 22 per cent for health visitors and school nurses. There are currently 2,640 active intervention files open with Heart of Birmingham.
“This high workload level is unsustainable in the long term and we urgently need to address our shortfall in recruitment.”
The children’s service, the report says, has been hit by a series of internal problems including:
* A sickness rate amongst health visitors of 7.2 per cent – the trust average is 3.8 per cent;
*The closure of the Soho health team because all of its five health visitors are on long-term sick leave;
* And poor performance and behaviour issues amongst staff that have been evident for years.
The report says the problems have resulted in a three-year delay in health visitors checking up on new arrivals to the Ladywood area including, in some cases, children at risk.
In addition, staff have been drafted in from other health teams across the trust area to work through a backlog of cases, including children officially classed as at risk of abuse or neglect.
The report recommends tackling the crisis by reducing routine clinics and at times using support staff instead of qualified health visitors to monitor children’s health and welfare.
Claude Knights, director of leading children’s charity Kidscape, said: “For children on the at-risk register, health visitors are often the last lifeline after so much has already gone wrong.
“Not to take into account and minimise any potential for abuse or neglect to be missed, leads to institutionalised neglect. We must not forget the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq (the seven-year-old Handsworth girl who is believed to have starved to death). Intervention at the right time can prevent such tragedies.
‘‘This seems to be the apparent failure of management systems.”
Salma Ali, the trust’s director of provider services, said: “We do have issues such as sickness amongst some of our staff and we actively manage these to minimise the impact on service delivery.
‘‘We have taken a number of actions to constantly review and improve our services by monitoring the position constantly, prioritising staffing and moving resources around should gaps appear, as well as keeping our board aware of the position.
“Families that need visiting at home are provided with these services but not all families with children need home visits.
“Many families for example attend baby clinics held in a number of sites including GP surgeries, health centres and children’s centres where they can be seen.
‘‘Telephone advice is also available to families where this is appropriate.”