Children ‘are being let down by care service’

Vulnerable children are being let down in “too many” cases by professionals who do not ask them for their views and fail to listen to the concerns of other adults, including grandparents, about their care, a watchdog said today.

Ofsted said a study of serious case reviews (SCRs) had shown too many children were not seen frequently by professionals.

Agencies were also found to have failed to listen to adults who tried to speak on behalf of the child and who had important information to contribute.

Serious case reviews are carried out by local safeguarding children boards when a child dies or abuse or neglect is known or suspected.

The report analysed 67 SCRs evaluated by Ofsted between April 1 and September 30 last year, of which 65 concerned 93 children, 39 of whom died and 54 were involved in serious incidents.
The remaining two cases focused on adult perpetrators.

Some of the reviews found the child was not seen by the professionals involved or was not seen frequently enough.

In some cases, even where the child was seen, they were not asked about their views and feelings.

The tendency by agencies to overlook the role of fathers, male partners and other men living within families was also a “common theme” in the reviews, the report said.

In many instances, the concern related to the risk posed by the men, but in other cases the men had information that agencies would have found helpful.

In four of the cases, lessons were learnt about the failure of agencies to recognise the role of grandparents in representing the voice of the child, Ofsted said.

One or more of the grandparents in each of these cases reported concerns about the care of grandchildren but this did not lead to “effective” action to prevent the serious incident, Ofsted said.

In one case, involving a family of seven children over two generations, a grandmother had contacted social care on a number of occasions alleging sexual and physical abuse of the children by their stepfather. She had also written to the director of social services, Ofsted said.

This had not triggered child protection procedures and it was not until more than a decade later that disclosures were made by the eldest children in the family, revealing the long-standing abuse that had taken place.

Eight of the reviews commented on the need to make it easier for the public to speak on behalf of children when they had serious concerns.

In some instances, where a parent committed a serious act against a child, the reviews commented that “no concerns” had been reported by the public even though people had witnessed “bizarre” behaviour by the parent.

In other cases, concerns reported by a member of the public had not been followed up adequately by the safeguarding agencies.

One case highlighted the “very valuable” role of a member of the public.

A two-year-old boy was taken by his mother to a supermarket where a member of staff noticed he was severely emaciated and that the mother was buying food suitable for a child aged three to six months.

The staff member recognised the uniform worn by the boy’s sibling and reported the concerns to the school. The school then informed children’s social care.

The boy had been suffering severe malnutrition and developmental delay, Ofsted said, and these concerns had not previously been noticed by the agencies involved with the family.

Christine Gilbert, chief inspector of children’s services, said: “It is shocking to see that too often children in vulnerable situations are not heard by those who should be looking out for their interests.

“That is why this report’s focus on listening to children is so important.

“The report shares valuable lessons that can help protect children and prevent such tragic incidents.

“I hope all involved in the protection of children will read the report and take stock of the importance of observing and listening to children, using different approaches to encourage children to speak openly and taking account of those who speak on their behalf.”