Children and YoungPeople Now reports that staff shortages continue to haunt Birmingham City Council’s children’s services department, which continues to be rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.
Apparently about one third of children’s social worker posts are vacant and have to be covered by agency staff.
Birmingham seems to me to be a good example of how an authority can enter a spiral of decline. A string of Serious Case Reviews and negative Ofsted inspection reports is hardly a good basis for attracting new people to come to work in an authority or for retaining reliable employees. Continued reliance on agency staff is costly and threatens the continuity of service.
What Birmingham, like many other authorities, needs more than anything else is to change culture. History cannot be re-written but the ghosts of the past can be laid to rest. Changes need to be put in place that demonstrate to all concerned that social workers who go there to work will be supported, treated fairly and motivated to do good work. Caseloads and workloads have to be more than reasonable – they have to be among the lowest. Management support has to be first class, with regular high quality supervision and frequent support. Bureaucracy must be rigorously slashed to ensure that social workers spend their time working with children and families, not with computers.
Most importantly the right attitude to human error needs to be adopted and promulgated. Members of staff must be encouraged to be open about errors and mistakes and to discuss them openly and to learn from them. Those who do so should be rewarded. The goal should not be one of pretending that error doesn’t happen or trying to coerce people into compliance with arbitrary rules and regulations. The goal should be creating a safer organisation by understanding how and why things go wrong and coming up with ideas for change and improvement. Creating a learning environment based on a just reporting culture is what they need in Birmingham; and elsewhere as well.