Birmingham City Council response to Keanu Williams serious case review

By on 03/10/2013 in News

The multi-agency Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board has today published a serious case review into the death of Keanu Williams.

This is Birmingham City Council’s response to the review

Peter Hay, acting strategic director, children, young people and families:

Today’s report into the tragic death of Keanu Williams is a further blight upon this city’s reputation, as we have failed to meet the basic expectation that our children are safe. For this we are unequivocally sorry.  We accept too, that given our record in failing to improve children’s services that our apology may ring hollow and any assurance of lessons learnt or other such statement is meaningless.

We therefore want today’s report, into a death two years ago, to be the point of real change in children’s services. Over the last two years, there have been some changes that are making a difference. The way that the safeguarding board is holding all public services to account is one of the most significant of those changes. The City Council fully supports the statement made by the safeguarding board: we will play our part in the action plan and be held to account accordingly.

We know that we have to address how the council will make more of a difference to the safety of children in this city, which has been inadequate in its Ofsted rating since 2009. Following the changes we made to leadership of the service in June 2013, we know more about what needs to be different in the work done to protect children. Today we are setting out our expectations about how this will be done through great social work practice around children, supported by an organisation determined to achieve the best standards. We do so in the hope that this offers the opportunity to others to join us in making children safe.

Safeguarding children means making judgements about risk. These are made by social workers and others through shared information, analysis and critical evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions to improve the lives of children. Great social work practice is supported by good management, supervision and in turn held in place by effective systems. Although the risks are complex, we agree with the analysis of Lord Lamming in the Baby P inquiry that good social work does the simple things well. From here on, our whole focus is how to support great practice to do the simple things consistently well.

Part of what makes Keanu’s death all the more tragic is that we got near to getting it right.  Decisions we made about risks posed to his siblings were right and made the children safe.  At the case conference in 2009, a social worker had put together a clear report on the risks posed to Keanu. For the first and only time in his life, Keanu was the focus. The case conference, supposedly the hub of the safeguarding system, let Keanu down by failing to develop the analysis of risk. The view of that meeting, that what was needed was family support, became the defining motif of poor quality work which wrongly and ineffectively responded to the needs of Keanu’s mother and not his safety. This is the comprehensive failing of the system which the report so clearly identifies.

We are now focussed upon developing our workforce so that it has the capacity and capability to:

-  piece together a view of the child
-  identify risk factors and how these can be managed
– communicate clearly with others

But we also need practitioners with the confidence to challenge. The safety of children is not static; it changes with events such as the regular house moves that Keanu experienced. Safeguarding trumps labels – social workers should not see family support as excluding a view of risks and harm. Our social workers must be able to challenge past decisions and other professions – the outcomes from the 2009 case conference should have constantly been reappraised. These challenges of events and past decisions should be part of the dynamic process of child safeguarding.

Critical, analytical and challenging social work lies at the heart of what we need as a city. We do have some great social workers who do some amazing social work, but we do have neither enough staff nor consistency of practice.  In part that is of our own making as we have not supported our staff well enough.  We understand many of them have had no confidence in our previous approach. That is why getting social work right lies at the heart of the commitment we make today. We have made some steps on the way to that through a new approach to single assessment, a new approach to workforce and attention to the immediate safety of children.  We readily accept we have a long way to go.

The council leads on social work practice. We have set out clearly what good practice looks like.  We are asking our staff to hold us to account for creating the conditions that consistently protect children.  As part of our approach to improvement, we are now seeking to take up the many offers of support and input we have had to work alongside our staff to raise our game to the level of the best.  This is a partnership, with our staff and with partners across the sector which is defined by our accountability to our community for what we do. We repeat our absolute determination to an improvement in the safety of children as the highest priority for this council.

Since June we have tried to take a new approach to building great social work practice from the child upwards. We have a lot to do build confidence in our staff, create stable relationships with partner agencies and to engage with the offers in improvement made by the entire sector.  It is still very early in that journey and the position in children’s services remains frail. We welcome an Ofsted Review scheduled for November and have also asked the Local Government Association for a Peer Challenge, or review, by the end of the year. Both of these will rightly subject our plan to rigorous tests.

Keanu’s death is another tragic reminder of the consequences of failing children’s services. One in every fifty children in the UK live in Birmingham, and their safety is a matter for us all.  Our track record over recent years is poor and we do not flinch today from acknowledging that a very different approach is needed. The cornerstone of our approach is that we meet our obligation to ensure the supply and consistency of great social work, which does the simple things well.  We are truly sorry that Keanu was denied this, resolute in our determination to address our shortcomings and humble about the beginnings of what we hope is the turning of a corner in our recovery.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member, children and family services:

I apologise unreservedly for the failings that have led to the tragic death of Keanu Williams. As the Cabinet Member for children's services I fully endorse the responses made in relation to the serious case review findings and will continue to provide strong political leadership to drive through the improvement needed. The professional leadership shown by Peter Hay and the improvement plans he has set out are exactly what I have been looking for and expecting, along with creating a culture of open and honest dialogue.

I am pleased that Ofsted will be consulting on the implementation of multi-agency inspections of child protection across health, social care, education and the justice system; this will identify gaps where we have seen the worst consequences of children's services failing to join up around the individual.

I will continue to work with Jane Held at the safeguarding board to challenge and improve all services for children in the city, across all partner agencies, to ensure safe and sustainable practice.


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