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Threat to local children's services

A council could be stripped of running its troubled children's services department by the Government unless standards improve.

Ofsted inspectors are to look at the Birmingham City Council-run service later this month with the Department for Education (DfE) considering stepping in if it is found to be failing, according to the BBC.

All previous inspections carried out by Ofsted since 2009 have rated the department as inadequate, the lowest possible rating.

Following last year's inspection, the DfE issued a final warning to Birmingham and put special improvement measures in place in an attempt to turn the service around.

In July, the department stripped Doncaster Council of control of its children's services after years of failings, with Education Secretary Michael Gove saying earlier this week he expected the use of that model to grow as a way to approach "under-performing" local authorities.

Peter Hay, director of children's service at Birmingham, said he believed there had to be a role for the council in safeguarding the city's children, and said there were "no easy answers" during an appearance on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Responding to the possibility of a takeover, Mr Hay said: "I think there's got to be a role for the city council because it can bring the relationships and the money and the investment.

"But it can't do what it has always done and I absolutely respect the Secretary of State has got a very difficult decision because there are no easy answers here to these long-term problems: staffing, investment and change to bear on the lives of children in this city."

Mr Hay took up his post in July.

The department was recently criticised for its part in failings of care leading up to the 2011 murder of two-year-old Keanu Williams by his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth, with a serious case review into his death revealing several "missed opportunities" to intervene by child protection agencies.

The youngster was found with 37 separate injuries on his body, and Shuttleworth is serving a life sentence for the killing.

In 2008, seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq starved to death at her home in Handsworth, Birmingham, with children's care workers again criticised.

A DfE spokesman said: "We have warned Birmingham that unless Ofsted identify signs of improvement in their next inspection, we will take further action."

Mr Hay said he had been tackling the problems in the department, including poor practice among some social workers.

"I think we've been very clear to get a grip on poor practice," he said.

"What I think is the bigger challenge for us is to show we've got great social workers doing great practice.

"We've got great social workers doing great practice."

He said the service had also made improvements to supervision and oversight of the decisions being made by social workers.

"I'm talking about the oversight in which you make those decisions and that oversight being well informed by judgments about people's work, the context within which they're working and their overall performance," he said.

"That's the glue to making decisions and keeping people capable."

He said the city council acknowledged it needed to put more money into the service, solving the problems about a combination of reform, investment and driving up good practice.

"It's also important to stress that social work and safety of children is a relationship business," he said.

"One of the reasons I've been asked to lead this job is I've been here a long time.

"Last week I spent time with over 300 headteachers in different meetings, I've met all the NHS chief executives, I've met five groups of staff in five offices."

He said it was "absolutely clear" that ultimate responsibility for the death of a child lies with those who act to bring children to harm, adding that social workers do not have a "crystal ball".

"The responsibility of the social care professional, with other professionals, is to make a judgment about risk," said Mr Hay.

"These are really risky decisions and they are fine calls - we sometimes expect people to have had a crystal ball.

"All I am expecting them to have done is to have made a judgment, an analysis of the information, and to live with that risk.

"You cannot predict everything that's going to happen, from all of those things onwards, and the responsibility and the consequences of it lies with those who act in a way that harms children."

In a speech at the NSPCC on Tuesday, Mr Gove said: "The same belief in innovation underpins our approach to the most under-performing local authorities - such as Doncaster - where we are doing what we did to the lowest-performing schools in the academy programme: providing the best leadership and new ways of working through a new trust.

"I confidently expect that the improvements we will see in Doncaster means this model will grow."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that Birmingham's children's services were now in "the last chance saloon" and the Government "might well" have to take them over.

"Frankly, if you are a vulnerable child in Birmingham, or indeed elsewhere, you don't care who runs the children's services, you just want to be properly protected when you need to be protected, kept safe when you need to be kept safe and taken into care if that's needed," Mr Clegg told BBC WM radio.

"Clearly there have been some lamentable and indeed tragic failures. I think Birmingham children's services are now in effect in the last chance saloon.

"We've got this report coming forward very shortly from the inspectors from Ofsted. We will be looking very closely at that.

"And I think it would be a duty for any government that if that report doesn't show that there have been significant improvements in the way in which the children's services have been run - given that we have a moral duty to make sure that these terrible cases don't re-occur - we would then need to step in in one way or another."

Mr Clegg said that many social workers were "put off" from working for Birmingham children's services because of its reputation.

"We've got an urgent need to make the children's service in Birmingham a service that people can be proud of, not least so that people come and work for it and help the children who need help," he said.


From Belfast Telegraph