Birmingham Council ‘failing to protect vulnerable children’

More than two years after Khyra Ishaq’s protracted and horrific starvation, Birmingham City Council is still failing to provide adequate protection to vulnerable children, according to safeguarding watchdogs.

A highly-critical Ofsted report found that the local authority was still paying insufficient attention to its “core business” of protecting children at the highest risk.

Birmingham’s children’s safeguarding services – subjected to a two-week inspection in June – were judged to be failing to meet minimum requirements for both overall effectiveness and capacity for improvement. Identifying “critical shortcomings” in the council’s safeguarding procedures, the Ofsted inspection, assisted by the Care Quality Commission, rated parts of the service as inadequate, the lowest possible rating.

Birmingham’s children’s social services department – severely criticised following the starvation of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq in May 2008 – was served with an improvement notice by the Government in February last year.

In its latest report, Ofsted stated: “Although some improvements have been recently made in some key areas by social care services and by partner agencies… some key and important deficiencies remain.

“Critical practice shortcomings, particularly within children’s social care and health, mean that not all children are being safeguarded and protected,” said the report. “The Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board has been pre-occupied by its attention to the business generated by 20 serious case reviews which have been undertaken over the last four years.”

Ofsted also found weaknesses in, or the absence of, performance management data, resulting in information about safeguarding and child protection cases not being monitored or evaluated.

“Critical deficiencies remain in frontline work with children and young people despite significant attempts to deliver improvements,” the report noted.

While some previously-identified concerns about the standard of residential childcare in the city had been addressed to good effect, the outcomes in community-based child protection work continued to be poor, inspectors found.

The inspectors’ report was published after the council announced the retirement of Tony Howell, Birmingham’s strategic director for children, young people and families. Mr Howell, who will retire in the New Year aged 60, rejected calls for him to quit his post after Khyra’s killers were convicted of manslaughter. The council said that Mr Howell, who joined the council in January 2002, will stay in post while the authority seeks to recruit a high-calibre replacement “to drive forward improvements to children’s services”.