An inquiry into the poor performance of Birmingham children’s social services will expose systemic failure in a department unfit to cope with the growing pressures of looking after vulnerable young people in the 21st century.
Officials are expecting the worst when a city council scrutiny investigation headed by veteran Tory councillor Len Clark publishes its report.
The Clark inquiry is expected to say several things:
* Children are being routinely placed in care and kept there, sometimes for years, rather than being offered for adoption or returned to their families.
* Absenteeism among social work staff is out of control, with almost 20 per cent of employees off sick at any given time.
* There is significant under-performance among some staff that do turn up for work.
* Transfer of responsibility for children’s care from one council department to another was mishandled.
* And social workers cannot cope with growing number of referrals of children at risk following the Baby P case in London.
The all-party investigation was ordered by city council leader Mike Whitby after Ofsted inspectors said care for children in Birmingham at risk of serious physical or sexual abuse was “inadequate”.
Social services lost its two-star government rating, the council was placed in “special measures” and ordered to work to a Whitehall improvement plan.
Coun Clark, who promised a forensic “warts and all” investigation, is beginning to lay the ground for the impact that the inquiry is likely to have.
He has warned colleagues privately to brace themselves for an avalanche of critical media comment generating bad publicity for Birmingham nationally.
Birmingham MP John Hemming, chairman of the Justice for Families Campaign, said he wasn’t surprised by the inquiry’s findings.
Mr Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) added: “There is a systematic problem with the care system.
“It basically takes children off parents and very rarely gives them back.
“The family courts have become cheer leaders for local authorities, we are seeing it in Birmingham and it’s happening all over the place.”
Coun Clark (Con Quinton) is determined that his inquiry will not be a whitewash.
But he is refusing to comment ahead of publication of his report and has turned down requests for interviews.
However, Jon Hunt, a member of the inquiry team, said: “We have found very deep-seated and deep-rooted problems in children’s social care.”
Coun Hunt (Lib Dem Perry Barr) added: “I would hope that people at the council who need to be doing better are already aware of the issues and are taking action to make sure things improve.”
Despite investment of more than £50 million since 2004, Birmingham social services has spent much of the past decade failing to hit government targets.
The Ofsted report was the first official inspection to be carried out following the transfer of responsibility for children’s care from the adults and communities directorate to the children, young people and families directorate – a move likely to be criticised by the Clark inquiry, which is expected to say that senior officials with expert knowledge of children’s social services were sidelined.