New fears on Birmingham child care failures

BIRMINGHAM’S “inadequate” social services for children at risk of abuse show little sign of improving, the city council has admitted.

The council is failing to hit 10 out of 13 Government targets for the standard of care local authorities are supposed to provide for vulnerable youngsters.

Earlier this year Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes ordered an intervention team led by financial consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers to help run social care in Birmingham and issued a formal improvement notice requiring the council to raise its game.

A study by the Audit Commission described the help given to children at risk as inadequate.

Failure to comply with the improvement notice could see Whitehall intervening directly by taking responsibility for running children’s social services.

Statistics tabled at a scrutiny committee showed that Birmingham is some distance from hitting targets for assessing children thought to be at risk of harm. Fewer than three-quarters of assessments are completed within seven weeks.

Tory councillor Len Clark, who is chairing an inquiry into the standard of services for vulnerable children, admitted it was almost impossible to judge how well the department was performing because of a lack of reliable data.

Coun Clark (Con Quinton) said the council could only provide city-wide statistics and had no idea about the performance of social worker teams in different parts of the city.

He added: “This must be rectified. If we haven’t got accurate data on performance then we are in no position to manage services at all.

“Some of our teams are performing at close to target or above it. Others are significantly below, and I mean significantly. They are dragging down the overall performance of the city and that under-performance maligns the reputation of the whole department.”

Andy Sedgwick, one of two new assistant directors of social services, appointed at the insistence of the Government, described the failure to complete assessments of children at risk in a timely fashion as “depressing”.

Mr Sedgwick admitted the council was “an organisation under pressure” and was struggling to lift standards. Difficulties in recruiting social workers and an increase in the number of children being referred made the challenges even greater, he said.