Birmingham social work model ‘not fit for purpose’ says report

The social work model in a city where eight children known to social workers have died in the past four years was branded unfit for purpose by a damning official inquiry today.

The report into Birmingham city council’s children’s services department, commissioned after inspectors found weaknesses last December in care for children at risk of serious physical or sexual abuse, found that a lack of senior management was a “major risk” and a shortage of experienced staff continued to “hamper progress”.

“Our findings demonstrated an extremely fragile management structure and the inevitable conclusion is that the current social work model is not fit for purpose,” the report said.

Members of the inquiry committee, led by former city councillor Len Clark, were “shocked and dismayed” at the standard of accommodation at some of the council’s social care sites.

The report ruled that current social work structures were “patently not working”, adding that urgent investment was needed to address immediate and short-term concerns.

It found that the screening of child referrals was carried out by “inexperienced staff with insufficient management oversight” and discovered a lack of clarity about contacts and referrals.

Overall, the quality of case files for children in care was not adequate, the scrutiny committee’s report said.

In the wake of the case last year of Baby Peter in Haringey, north London, who suffered horrific abuse at the hands of his parents despite being on an at-risk register, it emerged that at least eight children who were already known to social workers in Birmingham had died in the city in the past four years.

Among them was seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, from Handsworth, who was allegedly starved to death last year. Her mother and stepfather, who deny killing her, are due to stand trial for her murder next year.

An urgent review of children’s services across the country last year, prompted by the death of Baby Peter, highlighted weaknesses at six authorities, including Birmingham.

Ofsted inspectors said the level of care offered to children at risk of serious abuse by Birmingham’s Safeguarding Children Board was “inadequate”.

The council said it accepted the findings of the report, which it said was a “serious examination” of the challenges facing children’s social care in Birmingham.

“Our focus remains fixed on putting in place the changes needed to ensure the most vulnerable young people in our city get the care and support they need,” Mike Whitby, the leader of the council, said.

Les Lawrence, the council’s cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “While recognising there is still work to do, I am pleased that we are starting to see substantial improvements already coming through.

“There is no quick fix to the problems highlighted, some of which affect all councils nationally, such as the recruitment and retention of social workers.”

Birmingham city council looks after 2,400 children and supports a further 1,400 through child protection plans.