Current position of children's services in Birmingham

By on 19/03/2014 in News

Summary position statement for the education and vulnerable children overview and scrutiny committee - 19 March 2014

We are making progress but fully acknowledge that the service is still fragile and a lot of work is required.  The fragility is particularly centred on continued uncertainty about the future alongside the need to develop a confidence about the way that the council works in a consistent iterative manner to support effective social care and social work with children.
We know our story, have increased the grip around what we need to do and need to start gaining confidence from the consistent application of a focus on improvement

The improvement work is now captured within the Children's Social Care Improvement Plan (DRAFT) which is the basis of our business plan for 2014/15. We have set a proper budget (£9.6m growth)  to underpin this plan.
We have maintained the focus on the Ministerial letter (August 2013) around:
•            We have stabilised staffing and begun to fill the substantial number of vacancies, particularly in the key practice supervisor posts
•           We are improving front-line practice – at present it is too variable, with too much poor practice which has not been challenged by managers
•             We established as a priority an operational structure which staff understand and can operate safely within and which forms the basis for proper management oversight
•             We are putting in place a vision for, and robust plan to achieve, sustained improvement – ending the cycle of leadership change and failure to drive effective practice change which has characterised Birmingham’s recent history.

The Le Grand review confirmed our approach. The Panel concluded that there was evidence of some improvement in morale; in case progression; in the recruitment and confidence of social workers; in court work; and, in stabilising staffing structures. These are all important pre-requisites for building consistent and sustainable improvement in the quality of social work practice. 
However, the Council is committed to work with the Le Grand proposals to create sustainable improvement, although obviously there is still a considerable way to go.

We know that we need to maintain strong focus on practice as follows:
1. Maintain improvements in recruitment and retention - we still have significant vacancies and need to stabilise the workforce. We are also auditing  whether  we are holding a strong line on quality in recruitment
2. Inconsistent practice - although there are increasing examples of good practice this is not true across the whole service. Some operational areas still perform below target on key indicators.
3. Single Assessments - acknowledgement that the throughput and quality require improvement
4. Improve 'Front Door' - continue improvement with focus on Section 47 investigations - quality and timeliness need to improve
5. Child Protection Plans - too many plans open more than 1 year and beyond need to ensure that those plans are still appropriate and safe
6. Looked After Children -need to improve permanence and stability outcomes - focus on cohorts regarding S20, Care Order placed at home
7. Quality and effectiveness of recording on CareFirst
8. Early Help Pathway and the Hubs - progress made but still a lot to do to improve working environment and effective early help offer. We also need to link in the successful start made in Think Family to move from “initiative” to organisational design
9. Improved Quality assurance – need to make independent reviewing service more effective, QA framework developed, Case Progression Teams in place
10. Permanence and care provision - we are redesigning our adoption, fostering and residential services to focus on the improved outcomes needed for children

There are also some wider strategic issues that we face and are addressing:
1. Management capacity & skills - work underway with National College, Rapid Improvement training and a whole of capability development activity
2. Unidentified risk related to low number in LAC/CP - work underway on this which also includes identifying the non-LAC support packages.  We also want to work with partners on the complexity of unidentified risk and suggest it's a major area for our InLoGov “Think-tank” work.
3. Viable social care budget - positive settlement for 2014/15 including extra £9.6m needs to be mapped into the future alongside the unidentified risks
4. Corporate alignment - need to continue to get better and more effective synergy with our priorities and make this the way we do business.
5. Improved partnership arrangements, resourcing and service delivery, including getting a better balance between the strategic and the operational, the city and the local.

Inevitably there are some significant areas of work (capacity, viability etc.) that have been put in place following identification of the issues with Le Grand that are in different stages of progress.

Above all, we are now looking to embed a distinctly different approach to improvement, based upon the consideration given by Le Grand. We are up for setting a constant and certain path towards that success and to not being blown off our course.

Peter Hay
Strategic Director for People, 19 March 2014


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