A former head of Birmingham children’s services has warned against another ‘Maoist-style’ restructure in the wake of the tragic Keanu Williams case and a continued failure to improve performance.
Former Conservative councillor Matt Bennett, who led the department under the final year of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in Birmingham, said that fundamental basics need to be put right rather than repeatedly tinkering with structures.
Mother Rebecca Shuttleworth, was jailed for life with a minimum of 18 years this week for the murder of two-year-old Keanu in 2011.
A serious case review has been started into the case to investigate if child protection professionals missed opportunities to intervene.
Within an hour of the sentence it was announced that the strategic director of children services Peter Duxbury was taking ‘an unplanned, urgent leave of absence to deal with unrelated private matters’.
Mr Bennett said that there should also be no knee-jerk reaction against the current crop of department managers as the vast majority, including Mr Duxbury, have only been in place for about a year.
He said: “I am not making any excuses for those in charge. But if simply changing top layers were the answer we would have an outstanding service by now.
“There is hardly anyone left at a senior level who was there when I left in May 2012. We had carried out a restructure, and I believe that almost immediately Peter Duxbury carried out his own restructure. It seems that every time we get someone new we have this Maoist overhaul of the organisation. What we need are to give people the chance to improve, and if they don’t, get them out.”
He added that Birmingham social service’s reputation had not helped either.
“We don’t exactly have talented people queuing up to work here,” he added. Only last week the council’s vulnerable children scrutiny committee warned that the department – under a government notice to improve since 2009 – is still struggling with high sickness levels, poor quality casework and delays in dealing with vulnerable children.
The Post revealed how the council’s vulnerable children scrutiny committee described children’s services as being in “utter chaos” and highlighted its persistent failures – problems which, like the Keanu Williams case, go back long before Mr Duxbury’s arrival.
Mr Duxbury was only appointed 12 months ago with the task of turning round the struggling children’s social services department and improving its Ofsted rating of “inadequate”. He was formerly director of children’s services at Lincolnshire County Council where his department became the first in the country to be rated as “outstanding”.
But the promised improvement in Birmingham has not materialised – targets are still not being met and there are fears Ofsted will again rate it as failing for a fifth year running.
The Keanu Williams case is the latest in a string of tragic deaths of children known to social services.
A post mortem carried out on Keanu Williams revealed 37 injuries on his battered body, Birmingham Crown Court was told.
Mr Justice Spencer told Shuttleworth when he sentenced her: “He was a defenceless child and it was your duty to protect him. Instead, you beat him so severely he died a lingering death a day or so later.”
Paramedics were called to a flat in Ward End, on January 9, 2011, and found Keanu collapsed on a sofa. He was rushed to Heartlands Hospital, but later died.
His injuries included wounds that were consistent with being struck by a stick or rod. The damage that cost Keanu his life were probably caused by punching or stamping.
Shuttleworth, aged 25, will serve at least 18 years behind bars after being convicted of murder. She was also given a total of four years for four counts of child cruelty.
Her former partner, Luke Southerton, was cleared of murder, manslaughter and causing or allowing Keanu’s death. But the 32-year-old, who bit the child on his arm, was given a nine-month suspended prison sentence for cruelty. He must also carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Jane Held, independent chairwoman of the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, said: “It is already clear that there are lessons to learn from how various agencies worked together to support Keanu and his family.
"While we can’t go into detail prior to the serious case review being made public, it is clear from this trial that professionals in the different agencies involved missed a significant number of opportunities to intervene and take action.”