Children’s services failures are not just a city council problem the new head of service has claimed – and he called for an investigation into the role of health, police, education and other agencies.
Peter Hay, who took over as strategic director in charge of children’s services earlier this summer, has urged Birmingham City Council’s vulnerable children watchdog committee to take a closer look at the role of all agencies involved in child protection in the city.
He appeared before the committee to outline his plans to turn the service round following years of failure - in which he said there is a focus on frontline performance and decreasing workloads for social work staff.
Mr Hay said that a decision to raise the hourly rate for experienced social work staff has led to 30 interviews being arranged as the council bids to fill 42 remaining vacancies and lessen the burden on over stretched staff.
Mr Hay said that there had been a lot of criticism over the governance and leadership within the city council, but added that the serious case reviews had concluded failures across agencies.
Collective failure by various agencies was blamed for the failure to protect two-year-old Keanu Williams who died after being beaten by his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth in 2011.
He said that everybody ‘needs to be held to account’.
A key area of concern has been child protection case conferences where GPs, police and other staff too frequently fail to attend, often saying they have no information on a case.
“They have skills as a social worker, a police officer and a health worker to bring. It is not just about information on a case.”
And discussing the overall picture, he said: “Collectively we have not been good enough.”
He said that there are promising signs this is being dealt with, but urged the committee to look into the multi-agency working.
The council’s children’s services has been rated as inadequate since 2009.
Mr Hay outlined the plan to turn the service round which includes greater stability among management and the organisation structure, a focus on frontline improvement and a switch to an open culture in which both management and social workers feel able to challenge each other.
Ofsted inspectors are due in next month for a thorough investigation - although it is likely that there has not been enough improvement to shake the ‘inadequate’ tag.
He summed it up saying: “We need to do the simple things well,” and added that the organisation is at a turning point.
The committee, which has been highly critical of children’s social care over the last 12 months, said it now had more confidence in the department’s ability to improve.
Chairwoman Coun Anita Ward (Lab, Hodge Hill) said: “We are only where we were this time last year. Since then this committee has had several presentations at which we were told things we moving forward. Now things are back where they were.
“Our role is to challenge and criticise where necessary, but it is also to support. But we can only give that support if we are getting honest messages.”
Coun Barry Bowles (Lab, Hall Green) added: “I am prepared to change my stance when it goes right. I am confident that what we are seeing is a big step forward.”