Response to Ofsted unannounced inspection

By on 19/10/2012 in News

Ofsted has today (Friday 19 October) published the findings of an unannounced inspection into Birmingham City Council's children's services.

Although the report acknowledges improvements, they have until recently been too slow and Ofsted has judged the service to be inadequate.

The report makes a number of recommendations for the council and its partners, which are being addressed, including:

  • Ensure that children who are subject to child protection plans receive statutory visits within appropriate timescales
  • Our response: We have put in place very clear practice standards and have independent child protection chairs charged with ensuring these standards are met. We have a large number of agency staff in children's services and our contracts with them will now insist that they deliver on statutory requirements and work to performance indicators.
  • Ensure that delays in the protection of children through over-long periods of information-gathering and assessment are eradicated
  • Response: In some cases the quality of information received from partner agencies is poor. Whilst we have very clear thresholds for referral this is not always understood by partners, leaving social workers wasting time chasing information. We are working with the safeguarding board to help partners understand when referrals need to be made and, crucially, what information is needed.
  • Improve the quality of assessments so that they are focussed on robust assessments of risk
  • Response: We have set out clear standards for assuring excellent practice and these are being followed by team managers. Our case file audits and our independent review officers will allow us to check the progress of our improvement in this area. Child protection processes and planning formats are in place and these are reviewed regularly by independent reviewing officers.
  • Equip all managers to understand and challenge less than acceptable practice at all levels

Response: Team managers and assistant directors will be reporting to the safeguarding board on the quality of referrals and information being passed to social care. All team managers have been taking part in training and development to improve their ability to ensure the delivery of good quality risk assessments and child protection plans. These are monitored by our independent reviewing officers and our robust performance management systems allow us to check the progress we are making. Any managers employed through agencies will be bound by specific performance requirements.

Ensure that there is a single recording system for use of the common assessment framework and that the assessment process fully involves children and families

Response: There is now a single recording system for the use of the common assessment framework. We have regular audits of common assessments which are of good quality.

(For our responses to all recommendations please see note below)

Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “This report makes very distressing reading. Though some improvement has been recognised, it is simply not acceptable that services for children and families in our city continue to be poor.

“We are clear about what needs to be done and we have already put systems in place, such as intensive training programmes so staff learn from our best managers, improved risk management and helping partners understand how best to give quality referrals.

“It is important to recognise the difficult job done by our frontline staff but it is also important to acknowledge that the service provided by all of us is not good enough.

“There must be significant improvement over the next 12 months to ensure that we are doing all we can to protect every child in this city.”

Significant work has already taken place around early intervention, partnership work and risk management. Our children's centres and integrated family support teams now work alongside safeguarding staff, under the same management, which will improve continuity. We will help partners understand when they should be making referrals to us, and the sort of information that is needed. As the report states, too often social workers are left chasing information due to poor referrals. Regarding risk management, we have identified a group of excellent managers who will work alongside staff to ensure their skills will transfer throughout the service, and we are training managers to look at standards of practice to ensure everyone is working to the same standards.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children and family services, said: “This report confirms that we are still not in the right place, and it is totally unacceptable that children's safeguarding services in Birmingham have been so poor for so long. However, the report does recognise that we are moving in the right direction and I am absolutely committed to ensuring that these services continue to improve thoroughly and urgently, and on a sustainable basis.

“Since taking on this role I have met a lot of frontline social workers and been truly impressed by their dedication and motivation. It is important to remember the often difficult work they do to help children and families, and they all want to help drive through these improvements for the sake of all our children and young people in Birmingham. There have been significant changes to the structure of children's services over the last couple of years and, while the vast majority of staff do a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, where staff have failed to meet the challenge the council has not been afraid to take robust action.”

Peter Duxbury, strategic director for children and family services, said: “We accept the findings of what was an extremely rigorous inspection and welcome its acknowledgement that there have been recent improvements. However, we also know that these improvements are not yet sufficiently widespread. As the report points out we are already acting on key concerns. We know where we are and what needs to be done and it is my commitment that we will have seen significant improvements by this time next year.”

Responses to all remaining Ofsted recommendations

Ensure compliance with statutory requirements for children in need and ensure that those children who require an assessment and a child in need plan have one in place with identified needs and services required

Response: The way in which we identify risk and put in place appropriate actions is through the “common assessment framework”. Common assessments completed recently show good identification of risk in good management of risk and effective multi-agency action. Although there have been more recent improvements to children in need these are not sufficient to raise standards of practice overall. We are ensuring that all team managers are clear of the standards of practice we expect and are able to support front line social workers in delivering those standards. We conduct our own assessments / audits of our work (approximately 400 cases per month) and this will help us to check that our improved performance management and training is really making a difference for children.

Ensure the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) effectively discharges its statutory duties

Response: The report recognises that the BSCB is now working more effectively and there is a commitment from partners to the work of the board to improve effectiveness of safeguarding in the city.

Take further action to reduce the proportion of children missing from education and minimise risks to them

This refers to a small number of children for whom we have evidence that they have moved abroad, outside the EU, but for whom we have no absolute proof of emigration. All these cases are thoroughly vetted and there are no safeguarding concerns. Unlike some local authorities we still record such children as missing.

Ensure that children and families are consulted and included as part of child protection planning and review processes

Response: We have some evidence of good practice in this area and we are doing more. Building on the success we've had with children in care engagement we are having a number of parent and children focus group meetings to help families assist us in planning service delivery.

Ensure that the BSCB and partners improve working at all child protection conferences and reviews so that risk is assessed using all available information

Response: We have commitment from NHS partners and the police to work with us to improve safeguarding for children in the city. The police have committed to attending all appropriate initial child protection conferences and health colleagues will be working through the safeguarding board to improve the quality of referrals.

Implement an overarching strategy for early help that secures partnerships with health agencies and redresses the balance on intervention so that vulnerable children receive help earlier

Response: We have recently established a Children's Strategic Partnership Board with senior representatives from all relevant agencies, charged with delivering the children and young people's plan. One of the key priorities is to develop more effective early prevention. With the safeguarding board we are agreeing a strategy for early help which means that families can move easily between safeguarding services and family support services.

Review the purpose, role and functioning of the integrated family support teams so that they are fit for purpose

Response: There are several aspects to our services to protect children - we have integrated access teams, initial response teams, integrated family support teams, and child protection teams. These teams are not working effectively together; sometimes there is delay or lack of co-ordination between various aspects of the service. We have simplified things by creating one single access team for referrals for the city. We are bringing better co-ordination across children's centres and the integrated family support teams to ensure that families get help at an earlier stage when they need it. The integrated family support teams have evidence of successful interventions in many areas. We are now looking to integrate across the range of children's services so that family support can be provided when necessary but this can easily move into safeguarding services when this is required.

Ensure the BCSB works effectively with other strategic boards to safeguard and protect the welfare of children

Response: The safeguarding board exists to hold agencies to account for the quality of their safeguarding practice. The board is now able to do this effectively, we have recently established a Children's Strategic Partnership comprising senior representatives from all relevant agencies - this group will monitor and drive forward improvements in children's services. Both of these are working to the council's overarching strategic body the Health and Wellbeing Board.

BSCB to review the thresholds document and ensure that all agencies understand their roles and responsibilities in referral practices

Response: The safeguarding board together with all partners is committed to bringing clarity and robust action in relation to safeguarding practice. The safeguarding board has a key role in monitoring the quality of safeguarding practice and holding all agencies to account.

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