Too many children being taken into care says social services chief
Too many children are being taken into care in Birmingham because social workers lack basic information or the skills to judge whether youngsters are really at risk of abuse or neglect, the man appointed to shake up the city’s social services has claimed.
If staff were forced to be over-cautious it was “inevitable” that children would end up in residential care who did not deserve to be there, Colin Tucker said.
He aims to reduce the number of children in care, currently 2,500, by introducing better assessment methods and by trying harder to place anyone at risk with family or friends or foster parents rather than in a local authority residential home.
Mr Tucker, the city council’s new director of children’s social care, said Birmingham’s 750 social workers had to be “better skilled at assessing risk”.
The alternative was that more of about 22,000 cases of abuse referred to the council each year would result in children being removed from their parents.
Mr Tucker warned: “If you take children into care who don’t need to be there you will never get them back again.
“I am trying to promote a genuine philosophy of keeping children out of care and placing them with family and friends because the outcomes are better.”
Describing this week’s damning scrutiny report which condemned children’s social care as unfit for purpose as “a brave recognition of the problems”, Mr Tucker accepted that assessments of children thought to be at risk were often not good enough. Public agencies, including the council, police and health trusts, were not good at sharing information about family circumstances.
He added: “In the past assessments haven’t been good enough. We either haven’t taken into account the history of the family and the child, or we just don’t know enough about it.
“I am going to put in more training to encourage a different approach.”
He is vowing to lead from the front and since arriving in Birmingham earlier in the year has spent time on the front line.
A former social worker himself, Mr Tucker joined colleagues visiting a woman in Aston alleged to be the subject of violent attacks by her husband.
After talking to the husband and consulting the school attended by the couple’s children, the social workers decided a care order was unnecessary.
Mr Tucker said: “It was clear from the information we received that the children were okay. We got the woman to agree to meet with social workers.”
It was typical of the sort of case that could have gone either way, he said. But if children in such circumstances were always removed from their parents the number of youngsters in care in Birmingham would be approaching 5,000.
In a briefing note to staff, Mr Tucker tells social workers to “trust, delegate and call to account, be disciplined about tasks and time-lines and don’t tolerate failure to deliver standards”.
He adds: “Take the big decisions yourself. Don’t delegate the difficult tasks.”