Birmingham to get children's commissioner under Le Grand plans

Joe Lepper
Thursday, March 27, 2014

The government is to draft in a commissioner and expert panel to oversee Birmingham's troubled children's services.

Professor Julian Le Grand undertook a three-month review of Birmingham children's services. Image: Alex Deverill
Professor Julian Le Grand undertook a three-month review of Birmingham children's services. Image: Alex Deverill

The move is among a raft of recommendations made in a damning, independent report into the service, and accepted by children and families minister Edward Timpson.

The Ways Forward for Children’s Social Care Services in Birmingham report, which was commissioned last November by the government and carried out by Professor Julian Le Grand, is particularly critical of the council’s ability to improve children’s services but stops short of recommending taking the management of the department out of council control.

Professor Le Grand said: “Over the course of my review into Birmingham children’s services I have seen considerable commitment to improve and some green shoots of progress but insufficient evidence of sustained and embedded change.

“It is essential that immediate action is taken to make children’s services safe, particularly around the concerns I raise in my report about insufficient leadership capacity, variable social work practice and referrals and high thresholds for identifying at-risk children.”

Lord Warner has been appointed to the role of commissioner for children’s services in Birmingham and the expert panel includes chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler.

Lord Warner said: “Birmingham’s vulnerable children deserve to receive the care and protection that they can rely on when the responsible adult has failed them.

“Over the coming months I will work with Birmingham City Council to put in place the immediate improvements needed to child protection arrangements and help them achieve sustainable change for the years ahead."

Trowler added: “Over the coming months my priority is to ensure that Birmingham children’s services make immediate changes to frontline practice, making sure that frameworks are in place for referrals to be thoroughly investigated.”

Timpson has now written to Birmingham's leader Sir Albert Bore to inform him that he has accepted the recommendations made by Professor Le Grand.

The letter says: “I continue, as I know you do, to be very concerned about the safety of children in Birmingham. I am sure you will share my view that it is of the utmost importance that we act quickly and decisively to ensure we do the absolute best for Birmingham’s children.”

Priorities for Lord Warner and the council will be to carry out an analysis of unidentified risk to children and look at ways of strengthening senior management in the directorate within the next three months.

Also within the next three months Timpson wants Birmingham to have a “single and coherent plan for improvement” in place. Linked to this Timpson wants to see a five-year budget detailing the costs of improvement.

This latest move comes a month after an annual report on the troubled council’s child protection services found a dramatic drop in the number of children subject to protection plans, by 35 per cent between December 2012 and December 2013.

Shortcomings in the council’s information, advice and support service, where children’s professionals and the public can raise concerns, was cited as a key factor.

Birmingham has been hit by a number of high-profile child protection scandals in recent years. These include the cases of two-year-old Keanu Williams, who was beaten to death by his mother in 2011, and seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, who starved to death in 2008.

An all-party statement signed by Bore and other senior councillors, says that “improving outcomes and services for children and young people is the city council’s number one priority”.

It had been suggested that Birmingham could have the running of its children's services handed to an independent trust, similar to the model implemented in Doncaster, or broken up into smaller units.

Brigid Jones, Birmingham’s cabinet member for children and family services, added: “This has been a worrying and difficult time for our staff and partners, and I am glad that we can now move forward with some certainty and stability and start applying a planned approach to long-term improvement.”

Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Birmingham City Council has taken large steps during the past six months to stabilise a deeply unstable situation and we hope the recommended appointment of a commissioner will support its continued progress.
 
“Provided the commissioner acts as a critical friend and supports the council’s attempts to make children and young people safer then it will be a welcome development, supported by social workers in the city.
 
“A commissioner must not become yet another vehicle for the same political and management instability that Julian Le Grand’s report rightly highlights has long since bedevilled Birmingham’s children’s services."

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