At last I have managed to read the whole of the report into child protection services in Birmingham. It describes a history of under-performance over the last decade, involving issues which are said to be long-standing and for which there appears to be no quick remedy.
The report describes significant difficulties in recruitment and retention of staff, high levels of sickness absence and over-reliance on agency workers. The total effect is assessed as resulting in a 30% shortfall in capacity. Pay does not seem to be a crucial issue, but standards of accommodation for children’s social care staff are described as "shocking". It is believed that poor accommodation has a serious negative impact on recruitment and retention
The report describes high caseloads, with social workers spending “a high proportion” of their time completing records. This results in “extremely limited” contact time with children and families. These circumstances have been exacerbated by a sharp increase in care proceedings since December 2008. Duty and assessment teams are not coping with the volume of demand and lack of capacity in the care management teams creates a bottleneck, resulting in the duty and assessment teams having to hold cases. Screening of referrals is done by unqualified staff.
An audit of case files found that child care planning and practice was "unacceptably poor" in 53% of cases, "acceptable" in 39% and "good" in only 7%. Services for children in need are said to be “sparse”.
The authors of the report also identify a lack of clarity about what constitutes a referral and confusion and inconsistency of practice about when a CAF (Common Assessment) should be undertaken.
This report speaks for itself and does not really require further comment, although the issue of when a CAF should be undertaken is something which I would want to explore further. Perhaps the most important issue is the extent to which the difficulties outlined in the Birmingham report occur elsewhere?