The city council’s struggling children’s social services have been described as being in ‘utter chaos’ with little sign of improvement.
The children’s social care watchdog committee heard the department is on course to spend its fifth year tagged as inadequate unless there is a drastic turnaround.
Ofsted inspectors are due to visit this summer, but the committee claims there is little sign of improvement, saying they have found ‘utter chaos’.
It was first rated as ‘inadequate’ in 2009 in the wake of a series of deaths of children known to social workers – including seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq who was starved to death by her parents.
Despite three attempts to remodel the service and a string of senior management changes, the service is stubbornly failing to improve.
Children at risk are still taking too long to be seen and social workers are still covering too many cases. Concerns have been raised that there are too many ‘interim’ senior managers, including six at assistant director level. Some of them are on expensive consultancy rates.
Meanwhile the children’s services committee have raised concerns about the failure to bring down the numbers of agency staff and sickness absence rates throughout the department.
The latest public figures available reveal that in April the Safeguarding children service is failing to meet 24 out of 41 targets, only a modest improvement on 28 at the start of the year.
Vulnerable children scrutiny committee members said they were fed up of hearing promises that things would improve and seeing no evidence of it.
Neither the council’s Labour cabinet member for children’s services Brigid Jones, and strategic director Peter Duxbury, who was appointed to turn around the department in April 2012, were able to attend the meeting due to a clash.
Conservative children’s services spokesman Coun James Bird (Sutton New Hall) said: “Peter Duxbury sat here last year and told us things would improve. The same things were said by the director before that and before that.
“Ofsted said staff recruitment and retention rates were poor, case loads were too high and Peter Duxbury said this would improve. But when we look at the figures they are the same.”
He said that sickness rates have risen, and he has been given three different figures for long term absences – ranging from 395 down to 76. “It is in utter chaos,” he said.
Labour backbencher Coun Barry Bowles (Hall Green) was equally scathing suggesting: “There seems to be a reluctance from the director to attend the committee. Bad organisation doesn’t come from the bottom up, it comes from the top down If we don’t get it right there are consequences for the children in our care.”
Committee chairwoman Anita Ward (Lab, Hodge Hill) said: “Of 41 performance indicators, we have improved on just three since the turn of the year. We are a maximum of four months away from an Ofsted inspection, but in fact they could walk in at any time.”
Interim assistant director Vince Clark, representing Mr Duxbury, said: “We should start to see some changes in the near future. We have flatlined in some areas and I understand that is not good enough. With these targets we have set ourselves some high standards and are pushing ourselves.”
When asked if they should be attempting a reorganisation at this time he replied “the benefits outweigh the risks.”
Meanwhile the committee was also given a first look at the new Birmingham Baccalaureate qualification and told it will be piloted in ten schools from September.
The qualification is being drawn up in collaboration with major employers like Cadbury, HS2 and IBM, to give teenagers the skills needed by Birmingham employers.
Jenny Harris, who is leading the project for Skills in Birmingham, said that they had been working to a tight timescale of six months from being appointed in March to pilot launch in September and it would involve preparation for job interviews, CV writing and a key work related project.
Committee members pointed out that the Baccalaureate was less a qualification and more work experience.