Ofsted Considers ‘Whistle-Blower Hotline’ For Social Workers

Ofsted is considering introducing a “whistle-blower hotline” for social workers in light of the Baby P tragedy, the watchdog’s chief inspector said today.

Christine Gilbert said the measure would allow frontline staff to raise any “serious concerns” they had about child safety.

The measure would be in addition to those announced by Schools Secretary Ed Balls which were aimed at tightening up child protection services in local authorities.

Ms Gilbert announced the measure as she gave evidence for the schools select committee in Westminster, central London, today.

She said: “We want to make it easier for front-line staff to tell us when things are going wrong.”

She added: “We are considering the introduction of a confidential whistle-blowers hotline in 2009 for social workers and other front-line professionals to alert us to any serious concerns about practise that fails to ensure the safety and welfare of those they serve.”

Ms Gilbert the cross-party group of MPs of various concerns that had been raised during Ofsted’s recent investigation of child protection services at Haringey Council, which had been requested by Mr Balls.

This included social workers failing to identify issues which should have been picked up.

She said: “There were certain procedures which weren’t being picked up.

“The ideal is you try to see the child alone or have some personal connection with the child during the visit, that is not always possible in which case it should be recorded as not possible.

“It was being recorded four or five times that a child could not be seen. This should have been picked up in supervision, which happens between a social worker and the managers.”

Ms Gilbert faced tough questioning from the committee this morning over Ofsted’s involvement in the Baby P tragedy.

Last year an Ofsted assessment had rated children’s services at Haringey as good.

Ms Gilbert has since said that wrong data had been put forward by the local authority for this paper-based assessment.

Asked by committee chairman Barry Sheerman if she thought Ofsted had been misled, she said: “Social care cases and the allocation of social workers, when we looked at the files in a number of incidences, appeared to be families rather than separate children in families that had been put forward.

“There was a far harder and higher caseload than had been reported.
Files also weren’t closed promptly as they should have been.”

Ms Gilbert was also asked if Ofsted’s new remit, which now extends to colleges and children’s services as well as schools, was “too much”.

“Since we launched last April we have delivered every programme of inspections as would have been done in four different expectorates, more than that we have begun to expand inspections so that organisations do not have two sets of inspections, we have streamlined the process.”

MPs were horrified to hear that Ofsted destroyed data three months after a report is written.

Ms Gilbert was repeatedly asked how she could be sure Haringey had supplied incorrect data if she no longer had their submissions.

She replied that the evidence was within the Ofsted report, the detailed annual performance assessment (APA) letter and the Haringey case files.

David Chaytor, the Labour MP for Bury North, asked if the correct data could have still given Haringey an Ofsted rating of good.

“It could, yes,” Ms Gilbert replied.

Ms Gilbert said she had written to all council chief executives on Monday to ask for reassurance that the data supplied for this year’s APAs was correct but added: “I don’t believe people are deliberately misleading.”

The committee also expressed horror that the destruction of the records meant Ofsted could not say who inspectors had spoken to at Haringey.

Mr Sheerman said: “That is like an academic writing a paper and destroying all their research material.”

Paul Holmes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Chesterfield, told Ms Gilbert:
“When you look at the aggressive way Ofsted has dealt with schools, naming and shaming, but you are here talking about a child who died and an authority that misled you and you seem very relaxed.”

Ms Gilbert replied that it was “a very serious thing” but Ofsted did not employ those involved with Baby P.

MPs suggested senior Ofsted staff did not have much experience of social work but Ms Gilbert replied that it had been “top priority”.

The committee was told that more than three children a week, 210 in total, had died as a result of abuse between April 2007 and August 2008.

Ofsted’s annual report published last month concluded that 282 children had died with a suspicion of abuse.

Ms Gilbert told the committee today that 72 of those had died as the result of other causes, such as road accidents.

But this still leaves 210 who were subject to abuse or neglect.

Mr Sheerman said: “You have brought to us the most horrific figures I’ve ever seen brought into the public domain.”

The committee also heard that of 21 babies that had died from abuse only two had been known to social services.

After the meeting Mr Sheerman said Ms Gilbert’s answers had made him less confident about Ofsted’s ability to assess social care.

“This session made me less confident rather than more confident that there isn’t going to be another Haringey waiting.”