A report will go to the education and vulnerable children scrutiny committe on 10 June about children’s social care and safeguarding and education.
Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member, children’s services:
We are now one year into our three year improvement journey in children’s safeguarding. I want to set out for you how far we have come in that first year, and the further work we intend to do in the next two years (improvement plan agreed by cabinet 20 April 2015).
Last year, following many reviews of our services, we published a plan (Children’s Social Care Improvement Plan). Now, we have achieved or have in train everything we said we would do in that year.
We have made children’s services the top priority for Birmingham City Council and pumped much-needed money into the service, making a further £21.5m available for this year (2015/16). This has provided us with the people and resource we need to not only cope with the demand in the city, but to start to do so well.
Children in Birmingham are not yet as safe as we want them to be – but they are certainly safer than they were a year ago.
In 2014 we and our partners launched the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), and this is now our central response hub for concerns about a child. This has now been praised by Ofsted and Lord Warner. There have been improvements to the fostering and adoption service and to partnership working across the board.
We and our partners are ensuring that when needs become apparent, children and families get the help they need at the level they need it, be it at home, with a social worker, or elsewhere.
Stabilising our structures, management and workforce has been key to creating an environment where this kind of work is possible. We have worked hard to bring that stability to build the foundations for real change.
Compared to a year ago, we are:
- Receiving higher numbers of referrals about children needing help as a result of working better with partners to identify and tackle risks to children.
- Better assessing children’s needs when they are referred for help, through improved screening and partnership working in our MASH.
- Responding better to families. Where families with a number of pressing issues previously had to make separate appointments with different agencies, and children’s issues were seen as separate from parents’ issues, all partner agencies are now dealing with the family as a whole, giving a more convenient and more rounded service to those families.
- Making sure that children in care get timely reviews and better care planning.
- Implementing a Multi-Agency Early Help Strategy with partners (cabinet, April 2015), alongside a new multi-agency agreement about levels of need for children – Right Service, Right Time.
We must however acknowledge areas of risk that will be harder to change than others. Recruitment and retention of social workers is something for which the council has had a poor track record over a number of years and administrations and we need to get it right.
We now have a workforce strategy (cabinet, April 2015) in place to ensure we stabilise staffing and give social workers the skills, confidence and the right tools to deliver great social work that will make a real difference to children’s lives.
We will establish an environment and culture that will both attract new joiners and be a
place where social workers will want to stay and develop their expertise.
Turnover and vacancy levels are down; recruitment of newly qualified social workers, social workers and team managers has improved.
We will increase the qualified social worker workforce by 40 posts each year for the next two years.
We intend to increase our permanent workforce in line with this and decrease reliance on agency workers, so that the level of agency worker use is at no more than 15% overall by the end of March 2017. We have already reduced average caseloads for social workers and will continue to do so.
Our aim is that by undertaking more direct social work interventions with families we will be able to support more children to live at home with their families safely.
Through reducing agency staff and having fewer costly placements for children in care we will make best use of public funds.
So we have a strong plan going forward and we know what we need to do. There will no doubt be bumps in the road but we will not be distracted or dragged back into short-term thinking as we drive our service forward to the standard our children deserve.
Our education improvement plan was agreed far more recently – December 2014 – but we are already making progress and we are moving in the right direction.
We are launching a new code of conduct and recruitment process for school governors, and delivering training around safeguarding in schools.
The Birmingham Education Partnership has come a long way over the last two years and we are now taking the next step by commissioning them to take on school improvement in the city.
Later this month Cabinet will be asked to approve:
- Procedures for the nomination of local authority school governors, which have been overhauled to allow effective nominations following a suitable vetting process. These will operate on the presumption that an individual will only be a governor at a maximum of two schools at any one time and governors should serve for no more than eight years at the same school.
- A model code of conduct for governing bodies, developed in consultation with stakeholders.
- A guide to strengthening governance in Birmingham schools.
At the beginning of the year we put in place a new whistleblowing policy that will enable schools, employees and members of the public to raise concerns about suspected serious misconduct – that has been well received by schools. We have set out a vision where we want to see every child in the city achieve his or her potential, working collaboratively to drive through improvement.