Birmingham & Black Country

Under fire head of children's services to retire

Tony Howell, Birmingham City Council's strategic director for children, young people and families
Image caption Mr Howell will retire in the New Year, the council said

The head of children's services in Birmingham is to retire next year, the city council has announced.

Tony Howell's department has been severely criticised in the past two years after seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq starved to death in the city in 2008.

He joined the council as deputy chief education officer in 2002 and will be 60 when he stands down in January.

The announcement comes just weeks before a Serious Case Review into Khyra's death is published.

In February he said his resignation would "serve no purpose", despite a High Court judge saying it was "beyond belief" such a death could occur.

A High Court ruling into the case said that "in all probability" she would still have been alive if there had been "an adequate initial assessment by educational welfare services".

Angela Gordon, Khyra's mother, and her partner Junaid Abuhamza were jailed earlier this year after they admitted her manslaughter.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Howell, strategic director for Children, Young People and Families, said the city "presents some huge challenges to public services but also fantastic opportunities to make a difference."

"I feel incredibly privileged to have served the children and young people of Birmingham," he added.

"It has been wonderful to celebrate the many successes and achievements of our young people and I am sure the city will go from strength to strength."

Under his tenure, the proportion of pupils gaining five or more GSCEs graded A* to C has gone up from 45.5% to 72.2%, the council said.

'Asset to city'

But the social care aspect of his department has been under fire not only over Khyra's death but also when it was revealed as part of an on-going inquiry into child deaths in the city that since 2005, 15 had died as a result of abuse or neglect.

Most, including Khyra who weighed just 2st 9lb when she was found at a house in Handsworth, were known to social workers.

The information was released as an intervention team, consisting of experts from the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), was liaising with Birmingham social services from December 2008.

The figure was described as "wholly unacceptable" by Birmingham Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood at the time.

Children's services watchdog Ofsted said in 2009 "inadequacies" had been found regarding the council's ability to safeguard vulnerable children.

In January, six social workers were sacked although they were not involved with the Khyra Ishaq case.

It is thought the Serious Case Review by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) will be released later this month or early August, the council said.

The council said Mr Howell would remain in his post until a replacement is found.

Stephen Hughes, chief executive of the council, said Mr Howell had been "an asset" to the city and played a vital role in improving educational standards.

"Birmingham is now the best performing large urban authority in England and that is in no small part thanks to Tony," he said.

"He has also shown a real vision in how children's services need to be provided in the future with a greater focus on early intervention and preventative work."

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