Improvements to safeguarding children

By on 20/04/2010 in Factsheets

Background to the Improvement Notice issued in February 2009 and progress over the last year

Background
The 2008 Annual Performance Assessment (APA) judged Birmingham as “inadequate” in the area of Staying Safe and the DCSF subsequently issued an Improvement Notice in February 2009.
Understanding the issues in Birmingham's children's social care
Prior to the 2008 APA, a series of risk and performance assessment exercises identified concerns around: initial and core assessments; referral and assessment; children in care and value for money; and care planning and case recording.
In December 2008, the Council set up a Task Force (chaired by the Leader of the Council) and a unique all-party scrutiny team to work alongside the Task Force to drive through improvements in services particularly those outlined in the Improvement Notice.
The Scrutiny Inquiry completed its report in September 2009 and published it in October 2009. The report sets out in detail the nature and scope of weaknesses to be addressed.
In this way we are confident that we have understood fully the issues that sit behind poor performance in children's social care and therefore the areas we need to tackle.
Our action planning for children's social care has therefore been structured around:
• Social work process and practice.
• Data systems and performance management.
• Recruitment, retention and rewards.
• Capacity and resources.

Progress since the 2008 APA
Some of the actions we've taken over the last 12 months are:
• strengthening leadership capacity with a new Service Director of Children's Social Care - Colin Tucker, and three interim Assistant Directors. Permanent candidates are being sought for the Assistant Director posts.
• intensive rapid improvement workshops, where managers identified, analysed and made the front-line changes needed to deliver both immediate and longer-term improvements
• a comprehensive audit of all the children in care. This has shaped a training programme for care management staff, which reinforces new, higher standards of case recording and practice. 
• organising support from high performing councils, including mentoring and seminars for staff
• setting up a strong performance management framework that spells out personal and professional accountability for performance and progress, and which is monitored and analysed at city, team and individual level.  The performance framework emphasises the quality of social care work with a clear message that timeliness is a key part of quality. 
• keeping children in the community whenever possible and finding permanent solutions quickly for children in the care system.  A Reception into Care panel, set up in August to make decisions on admissions to care and legal proceedings, is already improving consistency and cutting legal action.  
• setting up multi-agency teams (police, health and social care) to screen all domestic violence notifications and decide which should be referred to children's social care.
• stopping 'review and monitor' practices and ensuring that only appropriate cases are transferred to care management.
• following the DCSF guidance on what constitutes a notification or referral.
• greater focus on fostering backed by recruitment of foster carers campaign and greater pay. Currently 66 per cent of looked after children are fostered, the remaining 34 per cent are with family members or in care homes. Ambition is to get that up to about 80 per cent.
• reform of Corporate Parenting Board consisting of elected Members and officers to focus on the educational attainment and safety of children in care.
• creation of a Children in Care Council which gives children in care a platform to voice issues of concern to them.
• developing a recruitment strategy that tackles over-reliance on agency staff and encourages experienced staff to stay with the council.
• creating a Learning and Development team to give dedicated workforce development support to children's social care staff. 
• intensive training to all staff working with looked after children, based on new procedures and higher standards.
• significant improvements in raising standards of care in our children's homes. 75 per cent of our homes are now graded good or outstanding and a majority of staff in these homes are now NVQ3 qualified.
• issuing mobile phones, 3G cards, Laptops and Digi pens to social workers to free them up to work directly with children.
• finding improved accommodation for children's social care staff has been prioritised in the Council's Working for the Future programme. Social care teams in south Birmingham have already moved into modern, fit for purpose workplaces.
• positive inspections have been achieved in relation to our education provision to looked after children, duty and assessment arrangements and fostering service.

In August 2009, Children's Minister Dawn Primarolo said Birmingham City Council had made “good progress” at the half-way mark and praised the priority placed on improving the service by the authority's political and corporate leaders.
We are confident that these improvements are contributing towards ensuring that the safeguarding of children in Birmingham is as good as it can possibly be. As a result, there is greater capacity at leadership and operational levels across the children's social care service and a noticeable positive shift in culture. We have seen substantial improvements in the indicators in the Improvement Notice. At February 2010, for example:
• Timeliness of initial assessments is up from last year's 65% to 80.9%, exceeding the target of 69%.
• Timeliness of core assessments is up from last year's 73% to 80% (target 86%).
• Timeliness of reviews of children in care cases is at 90% (target 94%) compared to last year's 84%.
• Participation of children in care in their reviews is now at 92% (target 94%) compared to last year's 67%.
• Children in care absent from school for more than 25 days reduced from 12.8% to 12.3% – achieving the target.
• Care leavers who are in suitable accommodation is up from 89.9% and currently stands at 93.7%, exceeding the target of 88.4%.

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