‘Arrogant cover-up’ blamed for Doncaster care disasters

FURIOUS Doncaster councillors last night slammed the “arrogance” of their chief officers and accused them of covering up reports which drew attention to failings in the borough’s child protection service.

Senior members of the council said the reports should have been shared with them, to allow them to take action which could have saved the lives of children who died while in the authority’s care.

Seven youngsters who came into contact with Doncaster’s social services died between October 2004 and May last year.

But the first warnings over child protection in Doncaster were given in January 2005 when the authority’s then executive director of education and culture Mark Eales, wrote a report voicing misgivings “especially in terms of accountability for children’s services”.

Responding to proposals to merge children’s services into a larger department he wrote: “We fear that the proposals significantly underestimate the required management capacity to secure safe and effective services for children”.

Despite Mr Eales’ predictions a new neighbourhood, community and children’s services department was created.

A second set of confidential papers reveals the reorganisation was a disaster and paints a devastating picture of mismanagement, incompetence and low morale which left processes “unworkable and unsafe”.

The 36-page report was written by the council’s former specialist change director Bron Sanders in March 2007, and published before the deaths of five of the seven Doncaster children.

It details severe problems in the department’s social work team saying: “The staff interviewed felt that the reorganisation had a devastating effect on the service. This was not just felt to be the process of it, although that was criticised, but the end result being unworkable and unsafe for such specialist and critical services.

“Filing systems are seriously inadequate, with loose papers, unstructured files and files kept on window ledges and in piles on desks. There is no systematic signing in and out of files and there are numerous examples of case files and papers going missing.

“Files are transferred between teams by any worker who happens to be around ‘chucking them in the back of their car’.

“This situation is clearly unacceptable from a data protection aspect and because the information is essential to enable safe case management and decision making.

“The interviews showed that the morale of staff and team managers is extremely low, some staff were openly distressed during the interview process and the interviewers felt that the mental health of many is at risk.”

Labour group leader Joe Blackham said an internal review was supposed to have been carried out within the authority to find out “who did what, where and when” but it had been delayed.

He added: “Many of the councillors are aware that these reports existed but we have never been given sight of them. It is reasonable to assume that these reports would have been seen at the time they were written by the managing director and the mayor.

“You would have expected the managing director to bring these reports to the attention of elected members, but he did not.”

The leader of the Alliance of Independent Members on Doncaster Council Garth Oxby echoed Coun Blackham’s comments and said: “I am extremely dissatisfied with the senior management of the authority.

“If they have known about these reports and seen these reports and not brought them to the attention of elected members then serious questions have to be asked of the managing director. I think it is arrogance. Officers in Doncaster think they can run the authority and have been allowed to run the authority.

“There must be an immediate change in culture.”

TIMELINE: Vulnerable paid tragic price for troubled authority’s years of problems

# May 2002: Martin Winter elected for first term as Mayor of Doncaster

# October 21, 2004: A three-month-old boy, identified only as Baby BO5, dies of sudden infant death syndrome after sharing a bed with his mother, who had been drinking. His parents’ relationship had been punctuated by instability, violence and alcohol abuse.

# January, 10, 2005: Mark Eales, Doncaster Council’s director of education and culture, writes confidential report to Managing Director Susan Law, warning about effect on children’s services of re-organising social services department.

# May 2005: Martin Winter elected for second term as Mayor of Doncaster

# Summer 2006: Susan Law suspended after allegations over her conduct made by Mayor. Paul Hart takes over as interim managing director.

# May 18, 2006: A seven-month-old girl, known as Child AO6, dies of sudden infant death syndrome after sharing a bed with her mother, who had a history of alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, anxiety, bulimia and depression.

# March 2007: Doncaster Council’s specialist change director Bron Sanders submits confidential report to senior managers and elected executive warning of serious failings in the council’s reorganised children’s services.

# December 13, 2007: Child A, dies of natural causes aged 10 months. Social workers had been called upon 10 times to help care for him and his sibling, but a review found that “overall the response to these referrals was grossly inadequate”.

# December 23, 2007: Sixteen-month-old girl Amy Howson, right, dies after months of abuse leaving her with fractured arms, legs and ribs at the hands of her father, culminating in an attack so severe her spine snapped in two.

# February 2008: Paul Hart is appointed permanent managing director of Doncaster Council

# February 11, 2008: Cameron McWilliams, 10, below left, takes his own life after taking an interest in a series of teenage suicides in Bridgend, South Wales. He had been secretly wearing his sister’s underwear and had asked his mother if he could wear make-up.

# April 12, 2008: Seven-year-old Warren Jobling, below right, dies while in respite care arranged by Doncaster Council. He had suffered from the extremely rare Baraitser-Winter Syndrome, which meant he was partially blind and deaf and unable to walk or talk.

# May 26, 2008: Three-month-old boy Alfie Goddard dies in hospital two days after being dropped down the stairs by his father Craig, who had anger management problems.

# December 2008: Ofsted ranks Doncaster’s performance in safeguarding vulnerable children as one of the worst in the country. At that time the town had 325 children subject to protection plans, double the national average.

# January 12, 2009: Government announces wide-ranging review into Doncaster Council’s children’s services after the string of child deaths is made public.

# March 12, 2009: Government announces troubleshooting team will be sent into Doncaster Council to work with new director of Children’s Services Dr Paul Gray

# March 31, 2009: Dr Gray leaves the authority.