Birmingham City council boss speaks out on problems with social services

THE council boss leading efforts turn around Birmingham’s failing children’s social services today admitted that so far he had not done a good enough job.

Colin Tucker revealed he considered resigning when Ofsted said youngsters at risk of sexual and physical abuse were continuing to be let down.

A damning report branded social workers and managers inadequate and found “significant weaknesses” in child protection arrangements.

Services for safeguarding children at risk were given the lowest possible Ofsted ranking – not meeting minimum requirements.

Mr Tucker, who has been in post for just over a year and is believed to earn about £120,000, met with his political boss, cabinet children’s member Coun Les Lawrence, and bluntly asked him : “Do you want me to go?”

He was told that council leaders remained fully confident in his ability to deliver wholesale reform and put social services back on its feet.

In a candid interview with the Mail, Mr Tucker admitted he had been “beating himself up” about the Ofsted findings and had doubts about whether he should continue as the Director of Children’s Social Care.

“I came into this job to help children at risk and we are not doing that as effectively as we should be,” he admitted.

He believes it will take two or three years to deliver the changes demanded by a government improvement plan and warned that Birmingham’s continuing difficulties in recruiting social workers and high-flying managers could continue to hold the city back.

Mr Tucker admitted that some of the written assessments conducted by social workers into children at risk seen by Ofsted inspectors were “woeful”.

He had no regrets about the sacking of six under-performing social workers earlier this year, adding they were so incompetent that “they should not have gone near children”.

Mr Tucker said: “You have to do something pretty bad in the public sector to be sacked. They were dire.”

On another occasion, a social worker had 60 referrals of children at risk on her books, almost half of which should have been “signed off” because all of the work was complete, according to Mr Tucker.

But the woman was refusing to complete cases because she knew she would then be given more work to do. She voluntarily quit her job.

Mr Tucker said it was essential to recruit more social workers, train them better, and reduce the huge workload. Each person handles an average 35 cases at any one time, although only a third involve children at serious risk of harm.

Mr Tucker added: “One of the criticisms from Ofsted is that we are not going fast enough. I agree with that. I have been working hard but I don’t think I have been bold enough in pressing for things to happen more quickly.

“Some care plans aren’t very good. There is still a skills deficit amongst my staff.”

During the course of a year, the children’s department has to carry out about 25,000 assessments after cases are referred by police, health services and the public. But about in about 30 per cent of cases the referrals turn out to be “inappropriate” and do not require social worker input.

Weeding out the inappropriate referrals, leaving social workers more time to concentrate on serious cases, is a major priority for the department.