Another year and another serious case review into the death of a child in Birmingham.
The chairwoman of Birmingham’s Safeguarding Children Board Jane Held, who was appointed last year, has said that there were ‘missed opportunities’ by various agencies to intervene in the household and prevent the murder of Keanu Williams at the hands of his own mother and her partner.
While it is clear Rebecca Shuttleworth is indeed the monster who inflicted misery and murder on her own child it seems that professionals were aware of problems in the household.
The sad thing is that this statement is eerily similar to those issued after the deaths of several other children in the city – Khyra Ishaq, Aaliyah Jordan Fellows and Toni-Ann Byfield among them.
Even the criticism voiced by Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood over ‘systemic failure’ matched his pronouncements on the previous murders.
In each of these older cases the conclusion from serious case reviews is that various agencies; police, schools, social workers and health services, had not shared the jigsaw pieces of information each had which would have together provided a clear picture of abuse or risk.
Keanu Williams died two years ago at a time when Birmingham children’s services had already been under notice to improve.
But anyone reading the Birmingham Post’s report from the council’s vulnerable children scrutiny committee last week will be well aware that the department is still struggling – the quality of casework reports are not good, workloads are too high, there are delays in assessments and staff turnover and sickness absence are both high with a heavy reliance on agency staff.
In total 24 out of 41 targets are not being met. Committee members have also been alarmed at the seeming lack of engagement from other organisations with repeated questions about why police, schools, GPs or health workers do not take part in child protection conferences. Police attendance has been particularly poor and needs to be dealt with.
Although Jane Held, cabinet member for Children’s Services Brigid Jones and strategic director Peter Duxbury (who took an unrelated and unexpected leave of absence this week) have been in post for only a year and are in no way responsible for what happened before – there is little sign of progress. At the same time the department has been reorganised for the third time in four years. There has also been talk of tensions among the department leaders.
Most of the senior management seems to be temps, or consultants, with interviews and appointments of full-time assistant directors delayed.
The robust cross-party scrutiny committee, chaired by Labour councillor Anita Ward, has reached the end of its tether with the department’s leadership. They are fed up of hearing the same excuses month after month and seeing no progress.
Coun Ward asked whether it was the right thing to keep meddling with the organisation.
And straight-talking Labour backbencher Barry Bowles was under no illusions that in most cases poor performance begins at the top and works down through an organisation.
All council services are this summer going through a review and it was the turn of the linked education department this week – it has been suggested to me that a similar look at children’s services could now be brought forward.
Given that social workers in Birmingham have suffered enough upheaval in recent years – four political masters, three strategic directors, umpteen assistant directors and three re-organisations – perhaps some continuity and stability are required. The catch-22 here is that if something is not working, it needs to change. So the fundamental issue that the council leadership now need to answer is whether the current crop are up to the job and have their confidence.
Last week’s column on the Tory and Lib Dem councillors stepping down at the next election has been attracting attention in the all right places.
In an email circulated to councillors of all parties, Sutton Coldfield District chairwoman Anne Underwood said that a poor Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association press officer should never have confirmed that Councillor Alan Rudge had chosen not to comply with campaigning commitments and by default had given up his Sutton Vesey seat of 31 years.
I would hate to see a press officer rebuked for giving a straight answer to a straight question – so please go easy.
Another response came from Yardley MP John Hemming, who agreed that he had a political falling out with Coun David Willis, which had prompted the latter not to renew his Lib Dem candidancy.
Mr Hemming took exception to the comment that one factor of several in their dispute was differences over his support for coalition benefit cuts.
Mr Hemming was keen to point out that he has supported some government cuts, such as removing child benefit from those on high incomes, but not all.
He also pointed out he had successfully lobbied for £2.2 million for Birmingham City Council to offset cuts in council tax benefit.
But then on the day that was announced Tories and Labour members all claimed credit.