Birmingham Children’s Trust: The Journey Starts Here!

I write this on what is my third day outside of the local authority family for the first time in 30 years. On 1 April Birmingham Children’s Trust was born, after what has been a long and challenging gestation! I joined Birmingham City Council in August, tasked initially with getting the Trust to the start line for an April launch. Mission (more or less) accomplished. 1900 staff TUPE-transferred into the Trust (sadly we left one behind by mistake: she will be with us soon!). An agreed budget of £200m is in place, along with some ‘invest to save’ funds. And through widespread engagement with our people, a sense of optimism and collective commitment to succeed has grown, I believe.

Birmingham’s history is well-known. It is a closed chapter, albeit with a legacy we must pay attention to. We are moving forward, with a renewed vision and sense of purpose, determined to improve the quality of practice and improve outcomes for the city’s most vulnerable children, young people and families.

So, what difference does being a Trust actually make? First and foremost, we are a large organisation but with a single focus: better outcomes for the city’s most vulnerable. This will be achieved through an unremitting focus on the quality of family support and social work practice. We are owned and commissioned by the Council, yet we are operationally independent and so free to change policies and procedures, quicken decision-making, to learn from and mimic the best around, all geared to making the Trust a great place to practice and to lead social work.

We will spend our money differently, and spend more of it closer to practice, by making savings elsewhere: in support services, in commissioning and procurement and in placements.

We have got this far with the support of Birmingham’s politicians and managers, and with the support of our staff, all of whom have made the great leap of faith out of the Council and into the Trust.

Children’s Services in Birmingham have been improving, under Alastair Gibbons’ great leadership, over the last couple of years. We now have the opportunity to kick on and make improvement easier and faster, this can only be a good thing for children and families.

What will make the difference for us? A focus on practice, relationship-based and systemic, manageable caseloads and improved learning and development; learning from best practice and research elsewhere; investing time and energy in supervision and better recording systems that support the professional task; helping practitioners be more reflective and restorative; giving the children and families we work with a stronger voice in decision-making that affects them; and working openly and collaboratively with our partners across the city to help find better ways of protecting our young people: these are some of the changes and new approaches that we hope will have impact.

I don’t believe that children’s trusts are a panacea or a solution to service failure. They are a particular type of vehicle that may help in certain circumstances. I am delighted to be in this one.

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