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Criticised Birmingham City Council sacks six social workers

Six social workers at a city council criticised over the death from starvation of a seven-year-old girl have been sacked, it emerged today.

The staff were dismissed over the past year for not doing their jobs properly at Birmingham City Council, which is taking part in a serious case review into the death of Khyra Ishaq.

She died in May 2008 from starvation, and her mother and stepfather were both jailed last week for her manslaughter.

Colin Tucker, director of children's social care at the council, said the sacked staff showed "no sign whatsoever" of meeting expected standards.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: "We are not appointing some staff, as well as that we have dismissed six staff in the last year.

"There is a clear indication we are serious about our standards.

"They did not adhere to standards and expectations that we laid down.

"They showed no sign whatsoever that they were keen to do so, so we dismissed them."

The dismissals are not thought to be directly linked to Khyra's death. But they follow a number of other child deaths over recent years.

Khyra died when her body succumbed to an infection after months of starvation at her home in Handsworth, Birmingham.

She was removed from school in December 2007 and social workers made several attempts to visit her home.

Khyra's mother, Angela Gordon, was jailed last week for 15 years over her death, while her former partner Junaid Abuhamza was jailed indefinitely with a minimum term of seven-and-a-half years.

During the trial, judge Mrs Justice King said "in all probability" Khyra would not have died had there been "an adequate initial assessment and proper adherence by the educational welfare services to its guidance".

Mr Tucker was brought in last year after Ofsted inspectors branded aspects of Birmingham City Council's children's department as "inadequate".

He said there are about 120 vacant posts which are filled with agency staff.

He added that he wanted to cut the number of agency staff being used to between 40 and 50.

Mr Tucker said the six social workers were "totally separate" from the Khyra Ishaq case and had simply not met the department's standards.

He told Radio 4's Today programme: "They were frontline workers, they weren't senior managerial staff.

"Since I've been there, we've introduced a whole new set of standards - that includes managers going through an intensive programme of assessment.

"We're remodelling in the autumn. That remodelling will have fewer managers in place, less duplication, more responsibility."

Asked about the death of Khyra, he said: "In the profession, in the city, we are so upset about that it is untrue.

"Staff don't come into social work to harm children or to miss signs of when they're being abused or mistreated.

"Believe me, their motivation is to safeguard children. This has cast, and rightly so, a real shadow over this department for two years. But we can't turn the clock back."

Mr Tucker pledged to give the press access to frontline social services in Birmingham once the SCR is published.

He said social work has been "on its knees" for 10 years and is not a popular profession for young people.

"I didn't want my children to become social workers and I feel really bad about saying that," he said.

Social work is a "hostile" job and the media should be more fair and balanced in its oversight.

Mr Tucker said Sharon Shoesmith, the former children services chief who was sacked over the death of Baby P in Haringey, had been "relentlessly vilified" which was "not acceptable".

He added: "I think we do have to encourage communities to trust us more and that's very difficult in a climate where I feel with my staff often that we're damned if we intervene and we're damned if we don't."

A spokeswoman for Birmingham City Council stressed that the dismissals were not directly related to Khyra Ishaq's death but added that the case remained of "critical importance" to the authority.

A serious case review into Khyra's death is still being conducted by the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board. A summary of its findings is expected to be published soon.