I've been reading the report by Cllr Len Clark, Who Cares? Protecting Children and Improving Children's Social Care. It examines the state of the Councils social services provision for children in the City. This follows the provision being identified by Ofsted as "inadequate" and a number of children who have died, or been seriously harmed, despite being known to the Department.
It is to the credit of Birmingham Council that the report has been published. At least it reflects some acceptance in Birmingham that there is a problem – in contrast to Haringey where the Children's services Department went into denial after the death of Baby P. Cllr Clark was the principal author in his capacity as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. He is a Conservative councillor but the report was also approved unanimously by councillors from other parties who were part of the inquiry. It is accepted that serious failings go back at least ten years, when the Council was Labour-run, so partisan constraints in making criticisms can be put to one side.
But I'm afraid the report itself is utterly damning. It tries not to be. It is as mild as possible in the language it uses. Cllr Clark says in the Preface that it "may not make comfortable reading for the Council" but this is "not by intent." Any progress made is generously acknowledged. Cllr Clark naturally does not wish to cause difficulties for his colleagues or make the difficulties in recruiting social workers in Birmingham any harder through negative publicity. Many of the points made would be useful for other councils as well. Ensuring that the computer system works well and that social workers understand how best to use it is not a challenge unique to Birmingham. Similarly this sensible recommendation could be of use to many elsewhere:
"It emerged in evidence looking at workforce capacity and in looking at effective social care practice elsewhere that there is much work that is currently done by social workers which could be done equally well by suitably skilled graduates, who are not qualifies social workers, thus freeing up qualified social workers to spend more time with children and families."
Yet the evidence is so overwhelming that it seems quite obvious that heads should roll. Among this report's findings is that recommendations from previous reports have been ignored. Ofsted and others will specify action needed but it will not be implemented. I find it quite staggering that Cllr Les Lawrence, the Cabinet Member responsible over the last five years, remains in his post. Why is Tony Howells, the Director of Children's Services since 2006, still in his job?
Among the findings of the report is that the lavatories in the social workers office stink. This is not a trivial point. The buildings are generally filthy and this is bad for staff morale and is also where prospective adopters and foster carers are summoned as well as where children are obliged to have "contact" with their birth parents – often a traumatic enough experience already. The report proposes that the lavatories been cleaned regularly. Yet this is a symptom of poor management. Have Cllr Lawrence and Mr Howells not visited these offices? Did they not smell the stench?
The report may not recommend it. But reading the report it is obvious that Cllr Lawrence and Mr Howells must go.