Birmingham’s leader has hit back after the council’s children’s services department has been branded a ‘national disgrace’ with child mortality on a par with Latvia.
The report from Ofsted found more than half of councils were failing to protect the nation’s most vulnerable children.
Birmingham has now failed in seven separate inspection judgements, and the watchdog revealed – with the latest results due next month.
HM chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw singled out the city for scathing comments, branding it ‘fourth division’ and an ‘absolute disgrace’.
He said: “Why is it that nearly a third of children in the city live in households on low incomes? Why is it that infant mortality is almost twice the national average, worse than in Cuba and on a par with Latvia and Chile?
“They must surely be linked to the evidenced failure of corporate governance on a grand scale – governance that has failed to grasp the nettle over many years and which has relegated our second city to fourth division for children’s services. These are shocking statistics and a national disgrace.”
He implied that the council would work better to protect children if it was smaller, saying: “As somebody said about the banks not so long ago, if they are too big to fail, they are too big. The same could be said about this council.
“It is an absolute disgrace and government needs to look at this with real urgency. If better governance means breaking it up so that children are better protected, then that’s what needs to happen.”
The city council has been hit by a string of ‘preventable’ tragedies involving children, including two-year-old Keanu Williams, beaten to death by mum Rebecca Shuttleworth, and Khyra Ishaq, who was systematically starved.
Both had been in contact with social services. A new report by Ofsted concluded that too often child protective services are “manifestly and palpably weak.”
The watchdog found that 20 of England’s 152 local authorities have “inadequate” safeguarding measures in place to protect children at risk of abuse or neglect.
Just three per cent of councils were rated as “outstanding” and 86 – more than half – were deemed to be “less than good”.
Sir Albert Bore said: “I am honestly not sure why this statement was made. He was stepping into territory which is not in the role of Ofsted, talking about homelessness, unemployment, infant mortality and households on low incomes.
“And he could say those things in respect of any major city in the country. Issues of unemployment and deprivation are as much matters for the Government and might have something to do with austerity.
“Last week I acknowledged that we have not protected children well in this city and that it is my priority. But Ofsted first highlighted problems in 2008 and the service has been under notice to improve since 2009. Ofsted has been involved all along the way, as has the Department for Education with who we meet every month.
“Making statements of this sort is just not going to help us improve. I does nothing for the morale of people working in children’s services. It makes Birmingham a less attractive place to work at a time when there is a national shortage of experienced social workers.
“The role of Ofsted should not be to undermine our ability to make progress and improve.”
Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming said: “The fact that so many councils are inadequate suggests to me that we are getting it wrong at a national level.
“There is a national problem with child protection going back many, many years.
“We have Government trying to run children’s services from Whitehall.”
He explained that the Government has been too prescriptive. And that there has been too much focus on ‘getting children adopted rather than making them safe”.