Page last updated at 23:34 GMT, Sunday, 18 January 2009

Child deaths probe in Birmingham

By Phil Mackie
BBC News

Birmingham City Council House
Ofsted identified weaknesses in Birmingham's ability to protect children

A government intervention team is to work with Birmingham social services after eight children known to the department died within three years.

A recent report by children's services watchdog Ofsted detected "inadequacies" in the council's ability to safeguard vulnerable children.

Last week, an inquiry was launched after seven children died in Doncaster.

Intervention teams have also been sent to Reading, Wokingham, Essex, and West Sussex, the government has confirmed.

The intervention team consists of experts from the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) who liaise with Birmingham social services.

'Working closely'

Tony Howell, chair of Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, said: "As the largest local authority in Europe, Birmingham has a population of nearly 1 million, including over 250,000 children and young people who are under the age of 18.

"Whilst the death of every child is a tragedy, the number of deaths in Birmingham has not increased annually.

"We have been working closely with the DCSF, the government office of the West Midlands and Ofsted since December 2008 to ensure any improvements that can be made are put into practice."

A DCSF spokesman said following the decision to appoint the intervention team, ministers would decide shortly whether further action was needed in Birmingham.

There has been a systemic failure in the provision of these services where it has led to loss of young children's lives
Khalid Mahmood MP

Among the eight cases under the microscope is that of seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, from Handsworth, whose mother and stepfather were charged with murder following her death last May.

In its report into Birmingham's services, Ofsted raised concerns about long delays in completing "serious case reviews".

These are carried out when a child dies or sustains serious injuries.

Birmingham City Council said it remained committed to caring for children and promised to learn lessons from these cases.

Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, said: "There has been a systemic failure in the provision of these services where it has led to loss of young children's lives."

He said the city's social services had failed to address the problems itself and it was "imperative" that a government body carry out "root and branch" changes to the department's structure.

'Catalogue of failures'

It is not the first time the city's social services have come under fire.

In 2005 an inquiry into the death of Toni-Ann Byfield, who was murdered in a drugs-related shooting two years earlier, described a "catalogue of failures" by the social workers.

Child protection standards in England and Wales have come under scrutiny since the conviction of three adults for causing the death of a child known as Baby P, in Haringey, north London.

The 17-month-old boy died after sustaining horrific injuries, despite having been seen by child support professionals 60 times.

The case led to the sacking of Haringey's head of children's services Sharon Shoesmith. Earlier this month she lost an appeal against her dismissal.

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SEE ALSO
Children services inquiry ordered
12 Jan 09 |  South Yorkshire
'Chaotic' council team failed boy
11 Dec 08 |  South Yorkshire
Khyra couple face murder charge
20 Aug 08 |  West Midlands

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