We Had No Choice But To Stand Up For The Children

Three months after being sacked, the workers who blew the whistle on the management of children’s homes in Wakefield are facing up to a tough struggle to see justice done.

What price telling the truth? It’s a question six whistleblowers who could no longer stomach the shocking treatment of vulnerable children in care ask themselves each day.

Two of the former Wakefield Council social workers sacked for speaking out will have to sell their homes because they can no longer afford mortgage payments. A third have had the bailiffs round while another has lost his car and uses sleeping tablets to help cope with the financial stress.

Five of the whistleblowers have long experience of working with children in care and none of the six had ever been disciplined before. Yet when they tried to get Wakefield Council to listen to the catalogue of failings in its management of children’s homes, no one listened. When they felt they had no option but to reveal what had been happening through the Yorkshire Post in January, the authority responded by sacking them weeks later.

All of them are shocked by their treatment and angry that a system that should have been in place to protect them was ignored. Even more so, they are deeply saddened that the ultimate victims in the saga have been some of the region’s most vulnerable children who were subjected to a standard of care that no parent would find remotely acceptable.

Clive Womersley, a residential care worker with 18 years’ experience, said: “While we are suffering greatly now, it’s nowhere near what those children went through. For Wakefield Council, it’s more about saving face than child care and trying to put damaged young people’s lives right. There was so much violence and sexual assaults against children which could have been avoided if they had listened to what staff were saying.”

Keith Bayliss, who began his career with the authority two years ago, said his confidence in social services management and how whistleblowers are meant to be afforded protection had been shattered. “I’ve completely lost faith in the system. We seem to treat people in positions of responsibility as though they are perfect and can’t do anything wrong. And they will never admit mistakes.” {mospagebreak}

The council’s determination to punish the workers for speaking out has extended to applying to have them all placed on a Government register of people banned from working with children. For professional staff, paid up to £35,000 a year to carry out a difficult and demanding job, a stigma which feels akin to being branded a paedophile is particularly hard to take.

The irony of how the council dealt with an agency worker who bought drugs with petty cash from the Marton Avenue children’s home and took children in his care out to smoke the drugs with him was inadvertently brought home a few days ago.

By chance, Mr Womersley bumped into the agency worker while shopping. The former colleague, who was allowed to resign his post without any further sanction against him, revealed he had now started teacher training.

A theme running through a chain of events which began last July when the whistleblowing statement was first given to the council appears to be a wider unwillingness of statutory organisations involved with child care to listen or get involved.

The whistleblowers don’t believe the response of either the Commission for Social Care Inspectorate (CSCI), which regulates local authority social services, or West Yorkshire Police when concerns were later raised directly with them adequately reflected the issues at stake.

Grant Morley, whose role before he was sacked included training care staff, said: “I do wonder what the role of these organisations is. Is it to protect young children or is it to protect the system? There are a lot of people sitting in offices detached from what’s going on.”

A CSCI spokeswoman said the Children’s Rights Director had carried out an investigation and a report is currently being drafted.

West Yorkshire Police received a dossier from the whistleblowers earlier in February and promised a response within the month. Nearly three months later a response has finally arrived in which the police do acknowledge concerns about care standards at Wakefield.

The force also confirms an investigation into the worker who bought drugs is ongoing and that inquiries are continuing into other matters raised. But the whistleblowers remain concerned there is little clarity about what action the police will take to safeguard children in care.

They also believe the council cynically sacked them to send out a message to any other workers contemplating speaking out about mismanagement. Yet despite the financial hardship, they are determined to see it through.

Karen Allcock said she ultimately had no choice but to stand up for what she thought was right.
“I feel like such a failure as a parent, not being able to afford to buy normal, everyday things like fruit.
“But I know what I’ve done is right. I certainly would think twice if I’d known in advance about the potential financial hardship but morally I would still have to sign the whistleblowing statement.
“We know we are 100 per cent right and the truth will come out at the tribunal. That’s what we hang on to.”