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Birmingham Social Services 'not fit for purpose'

(165 Posts)
SomeGuy Mon 05-Oct-09 14:29:53

www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article6861732.ece

"Birmingham children's services have been described as "not fit for purpose" in an official report written by its own councillors following a spate of child deaths.

The report found the young had been left victims of a “decade of underperformance,” with dozens of initiatives and projects being launched and then shelved with little improvement made.

A lack of strong leadership and weak senior management was a “major risk” and the service would not improve with the current shortage of experienced staff, the study found. Absences from sickness were running at 20 per cent, it discovered.

The report committee were “shocked and dismayed” by the standard of accommodation at some of the council’s residential homes for children. "

www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2009/10/05/birmingham-social-services-report-15-deaths-in-fi ve-years-97319-24856383/

"FIFTEEN children are believed to have died of abuse or neglect in the city in the past five years, with at least eight known to social workers.

Among them is Khyra Ishaq, who was allegedly starved to death.

The seven-year old was known to social services, and her mother and stepfather, Angela Gordon, 34, and Junaid Abuhamza, 30, are awaiting trial for her murder.

Other notable cases include the death of two-year-old Brandon Davies who died after drinking his parents’ methadone at his family’s home in Kings Norton.

Benjamin Davies and Mary Norman failed to call an ambulance until the next day. They were jailed in May for two years and 15 months respectively after admitting causing or allowing the death of the toddler who had previously been taken into care.

Another case is that of 18-month-old Jordan McGann, who died after being violently shaken by his mum’s boyfriend.

Darren Bennett had been previously jailed for attacking a former girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter. The cases come after the social services department faced major criticism and promised changes following the death of Toni-Ann Byfield in 2003. She died when social services allowed her to visit the man she thought was her father.

He was a convicted drug dealer and both were shot and killed at his bedsit in an ex-offenders’ hostel in London."

news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/8289954.stm

"Concern was raised that child referrals were screened by "inexperienced staff" with insufficient management oversight.

The report uncovered "systematic and deeply ingrained" problems which needed urgent action as well as long-term solutions to fix.

In particular, the scrutiny committee said the time social workers spent with the children and families who needed them was severely limited.

The report blamed this on time spent writing records, a high number of case loads, a high number of vacancies and sickness absences. "

I guess social services is a difficult business, and there must be a lot of tough cases in big cities like Birmingham.

Is it really possible to fix them? Or will we hear of cases like this indefinitely.

ObsidianBlackbirdMcNight Mon 05-Oct-09 14:38:00

It's possible to fund departments adequately in order that there are fewer vacancies and recruitment problems, and in order that depts can employ locums to cover vacancies, and in order that people have manageable and safe caseloads, and in order that managers are able to provide supervision and support, and in order that SWs don't stay at work until 10 pm every day and back on weekends in order to get their court reports finished, and end up burning out and going on long term sick leave.

I speak from the POV of a fairly well funded dept and we do not have any of these problems in my team (a more 'desirable' branch of SW than child protection) so I know what a well run SSD looks like - and these failing boroughs are not it. There have been no child deaths in my LA in my memory which has been about 5 years, although there was a high profile arrest for child abuse, and sadly, two adult deaths of young people that my team supported, but they were unavoidable (by SSD).

wahwah Mon 05-Oct-09 20:08:28

I don't think it is possible to achieve perfection and protect every child, but neither is it acceptable for any child to die.

I've been lucky enough in my career to move between different settings in working with children and famiies and child protection is the hardest job I've ever done. It's not just the massive workload, it's that you can never do enough, never be certain. We learn to accept our efforts as good enough, but what seems to be required is 360' vision and hindsight.

I do think that effective caseload management, being allowed to focus on the most concerning cases and attracting an elite skipped workforce (rather than the dedicated and the greenest) might help.

Can I beg that this thread doesn't turn into another Social Worker bashing one.

wahwah Mon 05-Oct-09 20:10:28

That would of course be 'skilled', although skipped might be good. Damn iPhone.

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 20:32:36

what worries me is where do you start in trying to make improvements? i really worry about the whole profession tbh, there is already a huge recruitment crisis - when i did my training it was very difficult to get accepted on a course, there were few places and lots of applicants. not so anymore, social work courses are now undersubscribed.

how are things meant to improve if the numbers of social workers are falling? not only have we got less people applying for training but lots of people also leave the profession - in some cases quite quickly.

being realistic LAs like birmingham, haringuey etc aren't exactly going to have experienced social workers queueing up to work for them are they? in LAs where ss are failing service users they often also fail their staff in terms of lack of supervision, support and training - and staff who are not adequately supported cannot adequately support service users.

johnhemming Mon 05-Oct-09 20:50:49

What I have suggested is that the government allows LAs to employ people with experience, but without the formal qualifications.

In any event the report today confirms what I have said for 30 months now.

DollyPS Mon 05-Oct-09 20:56:02

Can I ask what you need to become a SS and is there different fields in any department as I am led to believe there is by a family member.

WahWah sorry you will find loads of folks will jump on the SS here as it is failing the people it is ment to be protecting.

As I have said before on another thread there is good and bad in any given profession.

I feel that SS will be burnt out as they are overworked with caseloads. This is so wrong on many levels and should be bloody stopped but again it boils down to money and the government wont part with any in this climate well any climate really.

Mistakes then happen and then we lay blame on the doorstep of the SS some rightly so as they do have blinkers on at times.

SixtyFootDoll Mon 05-Oct-09 20:59:23

jh I agree
I would like to move 'over ' to social work ( I am a police officer)
But i cannot afford to give up my job to do the training, but i COULD do the job.
As I am sure a lot of others could.

staggerlee Mon 05-Oct-09 21:01:10

Haringey were in the news recently for recruiting Canadian and North American social workers.

I also know agency social workers who were apparently offered £50 per hour to work in Haringey SS (about twice the going rate).

I'm glad in some ways that this report highlights that some of the poor systems, lack of resources and the emphasis on record keeping rather than casework is preventing social workers from doing their job as effectively as they could.

I agree Wahwah I hope it doesn't turn into a social worker bashing thread and that often poor practice can be seen in the context of problematic systems, inadequate resources and competing priorities.

Unfortunately the debate has often been reduced to attacking social workers en masse for their personal attitudes and prejudices towards families and I hope this report helps people to see the wider picture in some Local Authorities.

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 21:04:43

johnhemming - LAs already employ people without social work qualifications - social work assistants. employing more social work assistants is not really going to improve matters, you can't expect people who are untrained and unqualified to undertake the same work and level of responsiblility as a qualified sw.

actually, i think that many of the existing problems have arisen from the fact that workers (both qualified and unqualified)have been expected to cope with unrealistic caseloads and levels of responsibility without adequate support, supervision and training.

imo employing more unqualified people will add to the problems rather than improve them.

SixtyFootDoll Mon 05-Oct-09 21:08:10

Most LA's employ foreign SW's mine has
Germans
Poles
Romanians
Australians
zambians
I dont think thats the issue though
The problem is the profession is held in such low regard

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 21:13:18

sixtyfootdoll - i quite fancy being a police officer, i'm sure i could do the job but i can't afford to retrain either.

do you see what is wrong with this? it is rather telling that even other professionals feel that they can do 'social work' with no training.

unfortunately i think that social work is a job that plenty of people seem to think they can do but very few people seem to actually want to do it.

i can't see many people thinking they could work as a nurse or a teacher without undertaking specific training.

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 21:15:59

staggerlee - just want to point out that £50 per hour is twice the going rate for an AGENCY social worker, just in case people think LA social workers earn £25 per hour (i wish!)

SixtyFootDoll Mon 05-Oct-09 21:18:45

But you dont need specific qualifiacations to be a Police Officer like you do to be a teacher or a nurse
You need 'life' expereince, surely SW should be more about that than an academic qualification.
MAybe 'on the job' training with p/t study would work better and maybe encourage people in who 'think' they can do it?
I hope i dont come across as demeaning SW.
I think it is so undervalued and under funded.

gothicmama Mon 05-Oct-09 21:31:53

social work should have a higher professional status, social workers should have experience in the differnt fields like doctors internships so they take an understanding of the whole gamet especially in children and family social work. To think anyone can walk in and do social work with some part time study, would not address the issues currently out there although it would reduce potentially the recruitment issues but it would still leave children vulnerable, social work may look easy to outsiders but to do it well takes alot of effort for not much reward or recognition. Perhaps more SWA would help with achieving good quality contacts with children and their families and leave social workers time to plan but would require social workers with supervisory skills - perhaps skilled and committed SWA should be encouraged to train a social workers

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 21:36:20

sixtyfootdoll - i don't think you are coming accross as demeaning at all - it's a discussion. have re-read my reply and it looks a bit sarky, sorry - it wasn't meant to be!

police do undergo specific training.

of course life experience is important in social work, but formal training is also vitally important and this training leads to a qualification.

many other countries have much higher standards of social work education than the uk - in ireland for instance, to become a social worker you must first do a primary degree in one of the social sciences and then complete a masters in social work. (although services there are shockingly poor in comparison to the uk - but that's another discussion)

i agree that more on-the-job training is needed but this does still need to be balanced with university based learning. i also agree that there should be some sort of 'credits' system to make it easier for people from other professions to move accross to social work.

people say that social work isn't about academic ability but, like it or not, a large part of the job is report writing and record keeping.

staggerlee Mon 05-Oct-09 21:47:46

Thanks for clarifying that ceres. I wish too!

Sixtyfootdoll. Theres considerable on the job training in the form of placements. 14 years ago when I was training I had a 3 month and 6 month placement which was almost half of my 2 year MA/Dip SW. However the quality of placements varied considerably and I think still does.

Gothicmama-completely agree that social work should have a higher professional status and it does in other countries. I've always felt that social work lacks a strong professional body unlike, say,the medical profession and the BMA

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 21:57:53

gothicmama - when i did my training about half the people on my course were social work assistants who were being seconded by their employing LA. i don't know how many seconded places there are now.

stagggerlee - when i trained i know the uni had problems finding placements. it must be even harder now, i know i've worked in teams where they didn't want to take a student placement simply because nobody had the time to dedicate to helping a student on placement. on the flip side i've worked in teams where a student has been pounced on as 'an extra pair of hands' which is equally wrong.

SixtyFootDoll Mon 05-Oct-09 21:58:35

SW should be on an equal footing as Police/ Nursing/ teaching

edam Mon 05-Oct-09 22:13:32

I'd imagine Birmingham is far from alone - obv. Haringey and Doncaster too, probably plenty of others.

And I'd be surprised if there weren't a whole load of Lisa Arthurworreys (sp?) out there - the junior social worker who was given far too big and complex a caseload then hung out to dry by her superiors when Victoria Climbie was killed.

SixtyFootDoll Mon 05-Oct-09 22:26:12

it must be the same in all big cities and most towns

ceres Mon 05-Oct-09 22:40:05

edam - that is exactly what we are discussing.

newly qualified social workers often carry too many cases and do not receive enough supervision and support. similarly social work assistants often have too much responsibility loaded on.

the problem is that there are simply not enough social workers - this obviously has a knock-on effect in that everyone is so busy trying their best to manage unrealistic case loads that supervision and training become sidelined. which in turn adds to the problems.

i also have to point out that not all ss teams are overworked and underfunded. i have worked in some teams where there has been great emphasis on support, training and well managed workloads.

edam Mon 05-Oct-09 22:46:43

quite, Ceres. My local SS dept. were savaged last time the inspectors went in (not over child protection though, IIRC). Guy at the top was earning well in excess of £100k - I'd have thought we'd have done better to replace him with someone who understood public sector pay is not about competing with big business and spend the extra on recruiting some proper social workers...

NanaNina Tue 06-Oct-09 08:51:18

I am chanching this thread in the fervent hope that it doesn't (as another one did) degenerate into a "social worker bashing" thread.

Birmingham City Council is oneof the local authorities for whom I have routinely worked during the time that I have been in ind sw. I am in no sense surprised at this latest report. I can of course endorse what evryone is saying abut SSDs in general and the way in which they are hugely under resourced and sws struggling with enormous caseloads etc.

Just to add a few comments that are specific to BCC in my view. I think I am right in saying that they are the biggest employer in Europe and have been running at between 20 and 25% vacancy rate and it just isn't possible to run a service on this vacancy rate. Recruitment and retention of sws is a national problem and BCC are clearly suffering in this respect, in addition to a good proportion of the workforce having to take long term sick leave because of stress. Obviously this means that those left to try to hold the fort are trying to cope with huge caseloads and become burned out as a result. There is a big reliance upon agency staff and sometimes I have known that when budgets are stretched, even the agency workers have to go until there is more money in the pot, and of course there are large numbers of unallocated cases.

Another problem for BCC is that sws are aware of agency staff earning more money and so they too leave and begin to work for an agency, thus exacerbating the problem. I have to say also that I have known managers who appear incompetent and sws are left to struggle without proper support and supervision. I spend a considerable amount of time helping sws in the cases in which I am involved as their managers appear in some caes (not all) unable or unwilling to do so.

The last case in which I was involved recently for BCC the young sw was clearly out of her depth in a meeting with very difficult and hostile parents and her team manager did not attend the meeting. After the meeting we had a chat and she seemed tearful and I put out my hand to stroke her arm in a gesture of empathy and she burst into tears and sobbed and shook for 5/10 minutes or so and told me that she had 32 cases and 5 sets of care proceedings and numerous children on the CP register and she was 2 years out of training. Her r/ship with her partner was breaking down because of her stress. When I saw her for the final hearing I wasn't at all surprised to hear that she was working her notice. Just one example.

I don't know what the answer is - funding is one issue of course. I hearda politician on the car radio (didn't catch who it was) saying that Gordon Brown or David Cameron need to be talking "social work, social work, social work" in the way that Tony Blair talked "education education education" but this seems something of a pipe dream.

I have no personal experience of the ICS devised by Lord Laming but I gather from what I read in Community Care and talking to colleagues from the la that they are spending 60 -80% of their time in front of computer screens, and who was brought in after Baby P - none other than Lord Laming - again.

I don't know what the answer is - but I know what isn't the answer - JH thinks that the answer is to use "experienced" people rather than qualified ones - "experienced" in what I wonder - maybe he is thinking of his 70 volunteers. How would he feel I wonder about "experienced" but unqualified nurses, doctors, paramedics, teachers, police, firefighters etc.............no thought not, just social workers because there is a belief that ANYONE can do social work better than those already trying their level best. This is sheer arrogance in my view.

I have also been amazed on another thread discussing sw at the entrenched views of some people that sws are just incompetent know alls who have all this power and simply want to punish poor parents and snatch children away to have them adopted and that the work is not scrutinised. A whole series of posts explaining that this is not the case and giving examples etc have mostly fallen on stoney ground. I think this is another problem - if of course these posters are representative of the british public and I suspect they may well be. The tabloids (especially the Sun) has a massive readership and of course they love nothing better than to indulge in "social workerbashing"

I feel heartily sorry for social workers today and can well understand why applications to train are at an alltime low and eventhose currently training are scared about going into childrens services and who could blame them.

Anyone have any ideas for reform?

johnhemming Tue 06-Oct-09 09:20:39

Laming has really been going with DCSF proposals. The ICS is more of a DCSF system devised to collate information for the KPIs.

My proposal about "experienced" people comes in part from a conversation I had with a manager at Silvermere who explained that he knew people who could do the job, but was not allowed to employ them. It is also based upon conversations with more senior managers.

The case you cite of putting someone who has 2 years experience into overload is exactly what is wrong. The more experienced people should deal with the more difficul situations.

Whatever the situation we must ensure that we have people in post that are competent. Formal qualifications do not necessarily imply competency.

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