Birmingham children's services has made progress from a low base in improving the quality of services to children and families, Ofsted has said.
The local authority, the shadow board, and since its inception in April 2018, Birmingham Children’s Trust (BCT) have made good use of monitoring visits since the 2016 inspection, and many of the recommendations for improvement from that inspection have been acted on effectively.
"The delegation of statutory functions to BCT has enabled the re-vitalisation of both practice and working culture, and, as a result, progress has been made in improving the experiences and progress of children," said the report.
Considerable and focused work has resulted in a more effective response to the needs of children and families at the point of contact. Significant improvements now ensure that all domestic abuse incidents are evaluated quickly and that there is clear identification of and an effective response to child protection issues.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection requires improvement to be good. Inspectors highlighted:
- A growing number of children in Birmingham are beginning to benefit from early help services provided by better engaged partner agencies.
- Police triage of domestic abuse notifications is effective, with a quality control in place to ensure that early help intervention is considered for lower level need.
- The majority of child protection enquires are thorough and evidence multi-agency contribution, informing appropriate decisions about next steps.
- Within family support teams, thresholds are applied appropriately and assessments are completed within the child’s timescales.
- BCT services for disabled children in need have improved since the last inspection.
- Homeless young people who are 16 and 17 years old receive swift and well-targeted support that includes a wide range of suitable accommodation options.
However, a small minority of children remain on a child protection plan for too long, without the necessary changes being made to improve their experiences. A small minority of decisions to step down children’s cases are made with insufficient information and without full consideration of historical information and the cumulative impact that this has had on the child.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers requires improvement to be good.
The report stated:
- Children enter care appropriately.
- Social workers are actively engaged in doing direct work with children, which helps them to understand what is happening to them.
- The quality of children’s reviews and subsequent care plans is improving, although senior leaders recognise that the specificity of plans requires further refining and improvement.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children receive responses that are swift, comprehensive and highly effective.
- Care leavers receive a strong service that makes a positive difference to their well-being and prospects.
- Children’s social workers, independent reviewing officers and team managers, through their supervision, show a good awareness of child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation, in particular gang affiliation.
However, BCT does not yet have a clear focus on permanence for children outside of adoption. The quality of social work practice within the Public Law Outline is not consistently good and can add to delay for some children. Advocacy is not routinely considered for children and their families and this limits their access to independent advice and representation.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families requires improvement to be good. Inspectors said:
- BCT, the local authority, leaders and staff know themselves well and are building on progress to date in order to achieve lasting change.
- BCT has developed a quality assurance system and performance information database that enables it to measure and track performance in the majority of service areas.
- The workforce profile has significantly improved since the last inspection and progress has been accelerated by BCT.
However, virtual school leaders do not have a clear enough understanding of the progress made by children in care over time.
In order to improve social work practice, Birmingham should improve the quality, effectiveness and pace of partnership working with external agencies, including partner-led early help services.
Trust and confidence between the courts and BCT should improve, as should the effectiveness of the fostering service. There should be a robust and timely focus on all permanence options for children and alignment of the approach to contextual safeguarding.
The impact of the virtual school in improving provision for children in care should be addressed, Ofsted concluded.
2022 saw people trying to get back to some degree of normality following the Covid-19 lockdowns, restrictions and school closures that we had faced for the previous two years. However, the impact of Covid-19 continued and many services experienced, and continue to experience, backlogs and difficulties, including those services relating to children and families.
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