The Birmingham Mail reports that Birmingham Children’s Services has more than 150 vacancies and now has to pay premium rates to attract agency social workers.
It’s not surprising the Birmingham is having trouble. Not only is there a national shortage of suitably qualified and experienced people, but the very public bashing that the authority has taken from Ofsted and the Government is hardly the kind of advertising campaign that will result in skilled people hammering on the door.
The general approach to children’s services departments that are in difficulties is one of blame and shame. Inspectors, civil servants, politicians and the media wag their fingers and waive their big sticks. The unrealistic expectation is that the local people who are trying to run the service will be suitably chastened and will pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
The reality is, of course, very different. Few people are motivated by a damning Ofsted report. Few people are encouraged by being told that they work for a failing authority. Few people want to shoulder unmanageable burdens or put themselves at risk of being blamed further. Inevitably some will want to move on.
And so a downward spiral begins as vacancies and workloads shoot up, and morale plummets.
I think that we should treat children’s services departments that get into trouble more like sick patients and less like wrongdoers. At the first sign of trouble someone should be getting drips into veins, making sure that there is a good flow of oxygen and standing by with life saving drugs. Fulminating and jumping up and down with indignation might make some people feel good, but it does nothing to improve services or to ensure that children are safe.