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Birmingham must tackle 'culture of failure' in child protection

An “honest appraisal” of child protection is needed in Birmingham if the city is to tackle a “culture of failure” that has existed too long, BASW’s Chief Executive Bridget Robb said.

Ms Robb was speaking in the wake of the publication of a Serious Case Review (SCR) into the death of two-year-old Keanu Williams, highlighting failings by the agencies involved in his care.

She said the city’s leaders now needed to act on their words and support social workers to do their job.

“There has been a culture of failure in Birmingham for many years now and it seems to have become ingrained.

“The council has an old-fashioned and hierarchical culture, where scapegoating has been the norm and staff are reluctant to admit when mistakes are made and when they are struggling.

“Birmingham children’s services has had four management changes in four years and three department re-organisations; this constant instability is totally demoralising for social workers.”

Ms Robb added: “The relationship between councillors, managers and frontline social workers needs to change.

“It is time for an honest appraisal of child protection provision in the city, across all agencies.

“We want to see a management culture where frontline staff are supported to improve rather than a 'witch hunt' when things go wrong.

“This is not about excusing poor practice and covering up mistakes, but social workers do need to be empowered to express concerns about cases and say at the time what needs to change, if we are to better protect the city’s children."

Birmingham City Council’s children’s services was served with an improvement notice in 2009 following a number of child deaths, including that of Khyra Ishaq, and a damning Ofsted inspection report.

Child protection in the city was labelled 'inadequate' in 2010 and remains in special measures.

Peter Hay, Birmingham City Council’s Acting Strategic Director for Children, Young People and Families, apologised for the city’s failure “to meet the basic expectation that our children are safe”.

He said he wanted publication of the SCR into the case of Keanu Williams to be a “point of real change in children’s services”.

Keanu died in January 2011 from multiple injuries inflicted by his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth, who was known to social services.

The SCR into his death concluded that “professionals in the various agencies involved had collectively failed to prevent Keanu’s death as they missed a significant number of opportunities to intervene and take action”.

It highlighted a lack of confidence by professionals to “challenge or question decisions taken by line managers or other professionals in partner agencies” and among its eight recommendations says the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board should undertake a full review of frontline child protection.