It is, to say the least, unfortunate that Birmingham City Council failed to meet a self-imposed timetable to publish details of inquiries into the cases of eight children who died from suspected abuse.
It is even more unfortunate that Tony Howell, director of the children, young person’s and families department, felt the need last week to trumpet a new openness, inviting the public to read details of the eight cases on the council’s Safeguarding Children website. In the event, the details were not there and Mr Howell was left more than a little red-faced.
There was something on the website, however, which underlined the council’s traditionally secretive approach to child abuse – a stern warning that details of Serious Case Reviews must not be reproduced, published, downloaded or broadcast. You may read, apparently, and pass on the information verbally, but newspapers and broadcasters are not supposed to pass on details to their audience.
No one would deny that this is a difficult area for the council, which is faced with balancing the public right to know about institutional failings in cases involving the most vulnerable children against a wish not to identify the families involved.
But Birmingham has a vested interest in being as open as possible, since the council’s safeguarding services for children at risk of abuse have been declared inadequate by Ofsted. With part of Mr Howell’s department placed in special measures and working to a Whitehall improvement plan, he cannot afford to run the risk of appearing to have something to hide. After all, does it really take four days to solve “technical hitches” on a website?