Birmingham social workers lack practical experience, says MP Hemming
Children are routinely taken into care in Birmingham without any evidence to suggest that they should be removed from their parents, a city MP has claimed.
John Hemming said social workers were spending too much time in the office “in front of computers” and failing to get out and talk to parents and young people thought to be at risk of physical or sexual abuse.
Mr Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley), who chairs the Justice for Families Campaign, accused the city council of “erring on the side of caution”, which meant that children were being removed from their families and placed in care, sometimes staying there for years, without any proof of the need for such drastic action.
He was speaking after it emerged that an inquiry into Birmingham’s children’s social services will expose systemic failure in a department unfit to cope with the growing pressures of looking after children in the 21st century.
A scrutiny investigation was ordered after Ofsted said care for children in Birmingham at risk of abuse was “inadequate”.
The probe, under Tory city councillor Len Clark, is expected to say that absenteeism among social workers is out of control and that staff cannot cope with growing numbers of requests from police to investigate children at risk.
Mr Hemming accused family courts of “almost always” backing council decisions to take children into care, even when proper evidence did not exist.
He questioned the quality of submissions to the courts from experts – doctors, pshychologists and independent social workers – who he claimed were “beholden to local authorities” for work and “would not get their £5,000 fees” if they didn’t say what the councils wanted to hear.
More than 2,000 children are in care in Birmingham and about 1,000 are on the protection register, indicating that they may be at risk.
Mr Hemming added: “A lot of the decisions being made are very damaging to children.
“An absence of rigorous research is allowing this to continue.
“There is a question of whether the system is doing more harm than it is doing good.”
Children genuinely under threat were often failed by the system, including seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, of Handsworth, who allegedly starved to death after being removed from school by her mother. Social workers failed to intervene when the child did not attend school.
Mr Hemming said: “Obviously you need a system to deal with situations but it’s sad that you have a system that fails to act in cases like Khyra Ishaq.
“You don’t starve to death overnight.”
He added: “Social workers are spending more time in the office and less time seeing people. They have less information on which to make a decision.
“Government performance indicators require them to make early decisions before they have all the information.
“Erring on the side of caution often means that children are taken into care without any proper evidence to show why they should be removed from their parents. This is quite common.”