Staff suspended as report reveals massive failings in child care services
A Yorkshire council has suspended a number of staff and promised a full overhaul of its children’s care services after independent consultants uncovered massive failings which could have left vulnerable children at risk of abuse and neglect.
In several cases the consultants were so concerned about the welfare of specific children they requested immediate case reviews by service managers at Calderdale Council.
Among the damning failures revealed in their report were 30 children subject to protection plans who had not even been assigned their own social worker, and some assessments carried out by staff who had not seen the child in question.
In many cases social workers had “inexplicably” failed to contact the police when assessing what risk a child’s parents might pose. In two cases flagged up for immediate attention, the consultants discovered parents were convicted offenders.
Bosses at the authority, who ordered the study late last year after growing concerns over the department, have admitted they were unprepared for the scale of the problems uncovered. The fundamental issues are believed to date back to at least 2005.
The cabinet member responsible for children’s services, Tory councillor and Calder Valley parliamentary candidate Craig Whittaker, said he was “incredibly angry” at the report’s findings, but insisted he would not resign. He said work was already under way to rectify the position and was “very confident” every child under Calderdale’s care was now safe.
Calderdale was heavily criticised in December following a serious case review which said “systemic failures” had allowed the horrific mistreatment of a six-week-old baby girl by her parents, despite her being on the child protection register.
The baby, now in foster care, was discovered blind, deaf and suffering from two broken legs and advanced meningitis. Last March, similar reviews into the deaths of two more babies whose parents were known to Calderdale social services also criticised the council and highlighted systemic failures.
The latest report will add to a growing sense of crisis in children’s social care across Yorkshire. It follows a string of critical Ofsted inspections and comes just 10 days after the publication of deeply critical review of the case of two brothers in local authority care in Doncaster who tortured and sexually assaulted two young boys in Edlington.
Six more Yorkshire authorities had their children’s services inspected by Ofsted in the second half of 2009, all six – Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, North Yorkshire, Rotherham and Calderdale – being criticised for gaps in care.
But the new report on Calderdale is the most damning so far, revealing huge delays in the assessments of children who may be at risk and gaping holes in those assessments when they are finally carried out.
Last August the council appointed a new director of children and young people’s services, Janet Donaldson, and the study was commissioned following discussions between her and Coun Whittaker
Coun Whittaker, who has been responsible for overseeing the department for almost three years, said he had “always suspected there were aspects of the service we were not getting right” but admitted he did not foresee the scale of the problem.
He said: “It would appear the fundamental issues have been in the service all the way through…since at least 2005.”
Ms Donaldson outlined a number of emergency measures already taken and said the case of every single child in care or deemed at risk would be reviewed over coming months.
n The new director at Doncaster Council’s troubled children’s services department has vowed to lead the authority through its Government-approved improvement plan.
Chris Pratt, who replaces interim director Nick Jarman, said his first day in the job left him under no illusions, but said he was confident in his staff.
WHERE AUTHORITY WENT WRONG
# Assessments of vulnerable children delayed, sometimes for several weeks
# Poor quality investigations by social workers, with children sometimes not spoken to and crucial information from police not sought
# 30 protected children did not even have own allocated social worker
# Gaps of up to several months between visits to see at-risk children, “falling far below minimum standards of child protection”
# Protection plans “hard to decipher” and “inconsistent”
# Children and families left “entirely in dark” about the purpose of social workers’ activities