Birmingham Northfield MP Richard Burden has called for Birmingham City Council to rethink proposals published today following its Early Years Health and Wellbeing Review. Under the review Birmingham City Council proposes to contract out children’s centre services to a consortium of the Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Barnardo’s Spurgeons children’s charity and St Paul’s Community Trust. The City Council say the plan will better integrate health visiting and children’s centre services, but it will see a number of children’s centres de-registered by the Council.
Mr Burden said today:
Government cuts are hitting children’s centres and other Sure Start initiatives all over the country. A third of all the UK’s sure start centres have been lost since 2010. Birmingham has lost £17m from its own early years budget. Nobody should be under any illusions that the responsibility of cuts to children’s centres in Birmingham lies anywhere other than, at root, with the Conservative Government. That is why, together with other Labour MPs and the City Council, I will continue to demand that ministers change course.
But that does not let the City Council off the hook with what they are proposing here. In my constituency and several others they still appear not to have addressed most of the consultation responses they received over the summer from parents and from people who actually deliver early years services.
Looking at the position in my constituency, I am pleased the Council have told me that they will retain Wychall and Frankley Plus Children’s Centres as hubs for early years services, and that they have modified an earlier proposal to close Merrishaw Children’s Centre. Elsewhere in the constituency, however, it is far from clear what kind of support will be there for families. In an area of high deprivation like Kings Norton’s three estates, that is a real concern. In Weoley Castle, meanwhile, the City Council is planning to de-commission the well-established and highly regarded Children’s Centre only to then suggest running slimmed down services from two venues next door.
This remains a top-down reorganisation with far too many questions unanswered and precious little information about how its authors actually expect it to work.
Mr Burden has written to Council Leader Ian Ward urging that the City’s Cabinet withhold approval of the new arrangements unless and until the serious questions that have been raised are answered.
The results of the Serious Case Review confirms some of my worst fears about the background to Shi-Anne Downer’s brutal murder in my constituency.
Kandyce Downer should never have been awarded a Special Guardianship Order to care for Shi-Anne and there was little or no professional supervision of what life for her looked like in practice after the Order was granted. The result was tragedy.
Even though the Review concludes that Shi-Anne’s murder could not have been predicted, the message I take from this report is that it could have been prevented if the system had worked as it should.
I am glad there has been a review of how Special Guardianship Orders are considered and approved and it is good that Birmingham Children’s Services have made significant changes to the way they do things. They must keep the changes they make under regular review to make sure that best practice is followed to make sure the safety of children is always paramount. Shi-Anne’s life should never have been “invisible to professionals” as the Serious Case Review says it was. No other child in a similar situation should be invisible in future.
None of this can bring back Shi-Anne or take away the pain of those who loved her. But all agencies must be determined to prevent a tragedy like this happening again.
More information about the Review is available to read from the Birmingham Mail here and from the BBC here.
Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. This covers local issues and developments as well as my actions in Parliament. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
The Boundary Commission published their proposals for changes to Parliamentary constituency boundaries in England. Under these proposals, Birmingham would be set to lose one Parliamentary seat overall. There would still be a constituency called Birmingham Northfield, but it would be very different to the current one. Read more
Birmingham City Council is planning to remove dedicated transport to and from school for children with special needs. Parents rely on these services to help their children get to school safely and in a mind-set prepared for learning.
So the trial is now over. Kandyce Downer has be convicted of the brutal murder of toddler Shi-Anne “Keegan” Downer and sentenced to life with a minimum term of 18 years.
It is now vital that the Serious Case Review set up by the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board gets to the bottom of what happened in the months leading up to Shi-Anne’s tragic death. Were any warning signs missed? Was there anything not done that could reasonably have been done that might have prevented what happened? Nothing can bring back Shi-Anne but what lessons can be learned to help keep other vulnerable children safe in the future?
The Government also needs to look again at how Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs) work. Kandyce Downer was trusted with Shi-Anne’s care under an SGO. The vast majority those who take on responsibility for children under Special Guardianship Orders do so with love, care and commitment to the children they look after. They often do so without the rights and support from the state that they and the children deserve. Their call for this to be recognised better needs to be addressed.
The Government must also address concerns that have been expressed nationally about whether the assessments made before Guardianship Orders are awarded are always as thorough as they should be. About whether some Special Guardians do not have a strong enough bond with the child. About whether the understandable desire of the authorities to complete care arrangements quickly and within target times might sometimes lead to inappropriate choices being made. New guidelines on SGOs were brought in this year and Birmingham is one place where procedures have been reviewed to reflect the new regulations. But it is important that the issue continues to be scrutinised – in the interest of guardians and, most of all, in the interests of children.
You can follow the sentencing here: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/kandyce-downer-sentenced-live-updates-11280819