Senior KCC staff ‘allowing social workers to take the blame’ for child protection failings

Senior staff at Kent County Council have been accused of allowing social workers to take the blame for failings in the child protection service.

At a meeting of the authority’s cabinet scrutiny committee on Wednesday, Lib Dem leader Cllr Trudy Dean questioned why no senior managers had been held responsible for the multitude of problems that led to a disastrous Ofsted inspection at the end of last year.

But after being told the council was looking forward and not back, Cllr Dean admitted to KoS that it may never be revealed who was to blame for the collapse of the department.

She said: “I think it’s what members of the public expect and what social workers expect. They feel like they’re being asked to carry the can on this when all evidence shows they were working well beyond their hours, were understaffed, not being managed properly and with an inadequate IT system.

“I think they have a right to know what was happening at a higher level.”

KCC is rebuilding its child protection service after last year’s Ofsted inspection revealed vulnerable youngsters were at risk of harm, due to severe failings in several key areas of the department.

The scrutiny committee heard how the authority was making “huge strides” in dealing with a backlog of children without an allocated social worker, reducing the number from 2,200 last February to just 71 this week.

But Cllr Dean said she wanted to know who was to blame for the problems in the first place.

She asked at the meeting: “Who was responsible for misreporting that everything in the garden was rosy when it was not? Paul Carter [KCC leader] said there would be a ‘post-mortem’ but we are still waiting.”

But Cllr Dean cut a lonely figure as other councillors, including cabinet member for specialist children’s services Cllr Jenny Whittle, told her it was time to put the past behind them and move on.

Former cabinet member for children Cllr Chris Wells said the recent case of Sharon Shoesmith should act as a warning to those who seek to blame others.

Ms Shoesmith, the former director of children’s services at Haringey council, was fired without warning and on live television at the height of the Baby P scandal. Judges in the Court of Appeal have now ruled that she was unlawfully dismissed and “summarily scapegoated”.

Cllr Wells said: “Social services are always judged by failure and public inquiries, and it’s time we put the blame culture behind us.

“Very few people understand what goes on at the frontline and there’s a real danger here of turning this into something that would look better on the front page of a tabloid newspaper.

“We are seeing changes and positive contributions in turning the service around now, and in a month that has seen the Ed Balls/Sharon Shoesmith court case verdict, we ought to think twice before we start flogging people to blame.”

Among those people invited to attend the meeting was former KCC chief executive Peter Gilroy, who retired several months before the damning Ofsted inspection and was replaced by current group managing director Katherine Kerswell.

Mr Gilroy emailed Cllr Dean the evening before to decline the invitation, saying he felt it would be “totally inappropriate” to comment on issues at a council he had not been a part of for more than a year.

He added: “It is important to restate that my investigations did not find any evidence of children at risk of serious harm not being assessed within appropriate timescales, nor did I find evidence that case-stacking was occurring.

“This was also true of the two Ofsted reports in 2008.”

Cllr Dean said afterwards she was disappointed Mr Gilroy turned down the opportunity to speak at the meeting.

“These problems didn’t happen overnight and that’s the bottom line,” she said. “I’m disappointed he did not see this as an opportunity to tell his side of the story.”