Children's services in Birmingham rated 'good' by Ofsted for first time in more than a decade

Children's services in Birmingham once branded as a 'national disgrace' have been rated 'good' by Ofsted inspectors for the first time in more than a decade.

The rating comes five years after Birmingham Children's Trust took over the failing services from Birmingham City Council. Prior to that children’s social care in Birmingham had been graded 'Inadequate’ by Ofsted since 2010 and had been failing for longer.

Government intervention, along with the appointment of a series of commissioners, reflected national concern.

In the report published today all five areas inspected were given a 'good' grading.

The report stated: “Since the last inspection in 2018, much progress has been made by Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Children’s Trust in improving the experiences and outcomes of their children.

"Children are now safeguarded through effective ‘front door’ arrangements, thorough child protection assessments and a strong response to safeguarding children at risk of exploitation.”

Areas where the Trust was good:

  • Most social workers have manageable caseloads

  • Children and young people are listened to and their physical, emotional and mental health needs are well considered

  • Children’s identity needs are well considered when seeking an appropriateplacement match and careful consideration is given to sibling relationships.

  • The appointment of an experienced and permanent director of children's services brought focus.

  • The Trust have a clear understanding of the main challenges they face and politcal leaders have given great priority to children in Birmignham.

  • There has been a positive shift in the quality and impact of partnership workingbetween the council and the Trust, along with other key allies.

Areas where the Trust need to improve include:

  • The effectiveness of the response to domestic abuse

  • Earlier pre birth asssessments

  • Earlier engagement of personal advisers for children leaving care

  • Consistency of written plans

The report also said for a small number of children suffering long-term neglect, social work visits and management oversight are less impactful, and children remain in neglectfulsituations for too long. It added leaders have recognised this and have implemented anew neglect strategy but it is too soon to see the impact.

Andrew Christie, Birmingham Children’s Trust Chair, said: “We are all delighted that today’s Ofsted report confirms the progress we have made, and the quality of practice provided by our fantastic team.

"We know there is more to do, but the improvements are evident. Our work throughout has been shaped by the voices of children and young people in Birmingham."

Today's report comes after more than a decade of children's services in Birmingham failing.

In 2013 Birmingham's children's services were singled out by Ofsted as "a national disgrace".

Four. years later in 2017 a review into the death of Hakeem Hussain found there were failures in the opportunities to intervene and prevent his death.

Hakeem died after having an asthma attack in a freezing garden. Credit: Family photo

Hakeem was found dead in a freezing garden after an asthma attack in November 2017.

His mother, Laura Heath, 40, formerly of Long Acre, NechellsBirmingham was convicted of manslaughter by gross negligence of her son, who died at the home of a friend where his mother had been staying.

When Hakeem died, services in Birmingham had already been rated inadequate for years.

During that time a number of children died including Khyra Ishaq who was starved to death in Handsworth in 2008.

Khyra's mother Angela Gordon and her partner, Junaid Abuhamza admitted killing Khyra.

Birmingham Social Services were heavily criticised for not acting sooner.

Khyra Ishaq died after being starved to death in 2008 Credit: ITV Central

Reacting to children's services being rated as 'good' by Ofsted, Birmingham City Council's deputy leader, Councillor Brigid Jones, formerly cabinet member for children's services told ITV Central: "This is a huge moment for the city. It's no secret that Birmingham has had its challenges in the past.

"We are the biggest local authority. We are one of the most complex at high levels of deprivation and big issues.

"But today's judgment is a recognition of the hard work of thousands of our social workers and our frontline professionals, all working with our children across our city to do the very best by them.

"So much hard work has gone on for our children over so many years, and to have Ofsted recognize that today is a really historic moment for us."

Andy Couldrick who was brought in as Chief Executive to run the Trust which took over children's services in 2018 told ITV correspondent Lucy Kapasi, "Birmingham always had good social workers. What the Trust's been able to do is, I think, to create conditions that enables them to do good work.

"My experience had taught me that what we have to do as managers and leaders is to create an environment that is positive for social workers to do really hard work. But I think this report illustrates that social workers have appreciated that and they talk about feeling respected and valued, about having access to learning, training, development and having case loads that are manageable.

"Because if you've got too many children to keep an eye on, it becomes really hard. So you need a manageable caseload so that you can do good dedicated work with those families. I think that that's what we aspire to achieve and I'm really pleased Ofsted say that's what we've done."

"This is a day for our social workers to celebrate because this is about their work. It can't have been easy being a social worker in the last ten years in Birmingham. So if it's got better in the last five years, it's because of their commitment, their dedication and the support they've had from their managers.

Andy Couldrick of Birmingham Children's Trust told Lucy Kapasi he believed Birmingham's social workers had always been good Credit: ITV Central

"I think we had to create a management team that stayed put and stayed on the journey. It's very hard to improve services if people are leaving and joining, and I'm lucky to have the same leadership team that I started with five years ago. We've got that stability through the different layers of management and I think that's made a significant contribution.

"I think the report highlights the way that we've listened to the voices of children, young people in our care and those leaving our care and giving them the opportunity to shape what we do to make a difference.

"I think that's been important and I think that the solidity of the work we do with the education service, the council, with the police, with the NHS, with the voluntary sector has made a significant difference.

"What pleased me the most was the voices that came through the inspection of children and young adults who talked about feeling like they were part of a very big family. That means a lot to me.

"It means a lot to all of us in the trust, because for some of those young people, we may be the only family that they've retained any connection to. And that needs to last and be a lifelong link for them.

"So to have young people saying it's great to be connected to the Trust and it's great that they listen when we tell them they should do things differently is good to hear."

Mr Couldrick said the challenge now was to go on improving.

"We've reached a fantastic milestone in terms of our services being judged good. We're not done. We know that. We know that there are things still that we haven't got right or quite right."

He also addressed the improvements Ofsted said were needed in tackling domestic abuse which is increasing in the city.

"Domestic abuse is a significant issue and is a feature in close to half of the families that the Trust works with.

"What the report saying is that it could see some really positive work that the trust has done, but that the trust and its partners in the police and the police and crime commissioner's office in the NHS have more to do, more to do in terms of making sure that we process referrals properly."

"We also need more to do in terms of challenging the behaviour of perpetrators of abuse."

Asked if Birmingham Children's Trust would be prepared to assist colleagues in Solihull which recently received a damning Ofsted report for its failing children's services, Mr Couldrick said: "It would be a conversation with the Department for Education. What I would say, I think, is that we all have much that we can learn from each other.

How Solihull Council is failing children after damning Ofsted report

"Having reached this milestone, if if there are things we do from which others can learn, we would be very happy to share and we know that there's plenty we can learn from others and we do do that. "