Birmingham’s under-fire social services bosses spent £300,000 searching for a computer software system to record details of children at risk of abuse, only to discover that what they wanted didn’t exist.
After months of fruitless research they decided to stick with an existing IT programme, even though it cannot cope with more than 20,000 referrals each year of youngsters across the city believed to be suffering sexual or physical harm.
Most of the money went to expensive consultants hired to recommend an Integrated Case Management System (ICMS).
The new system was supposed to reduce the hours social workers spend compiling reports – leaving them more time to talk with children.
ICMS was one of the key components of the council’s business transformation project, and should have cut costs by £18 million.
The failure to find an appropriate system means that frustrated staff have to enter the same information into nine different data bases.
Inefficient IT systems have been one of the main criticisms of the council to emerge in several critical Government reports.
Earlier this year watchdog Ofsted identified “significant weaknesses” in services for safeguarding vulnerable children in Birmingham.
The council has been served with the latest in a line of Government improvement notices requiring standards to be raised.
Failure to improve services for safeguarding children – described by Ofsted as inadequate – could lead to social care being taken out of the council’s hands and run directly by the Government.
Len Clark, the councillor with responsible for driving through improvements, admitted time spent looking for better IT had been wasted.
Coun Clark (Con Quinton) said: “We spent considerable time and energy looking for an alternative system, when in fact there wasn’t such a thing on the market. Perhaps we should have recognised that more quickly.”
Children’s Social Care Director Colin Tucker said staff were under enormous pressure, weighed down by ever-increasing referrals of children suspected to be suffering abuse. Their plight was made worse by the “cumbersome” computer system, he said.
Mr Tucker added: “Some of our practice is excellent, but some is not. The task is to raise the bar and address the skills deficit.”
Les Lawrence, the cabinet member for children, adults and communities, said children’s social services in Birmingham had been under-funded for many years.
Coun Lawrence (Con Northfield) added: “It has been the cinderella service and never given the attention in the past that it should have been.
“We are now getting to grips with it and our first priority is the safeguarding of children.”