Social workers under fire as ‘urchins’ returned to parents

SOCIAL work chiefs have defended their decision to allow four children who were described as living like “street urchins” to be returned to their parents.

The children, aged between seven and ten years old, were found sleeping on dirty bed sheets on the floor of a filthy house in Niddrie by horrified police officers who called to give their parents a formal warning about one of the youngsters running wild.

They found the children living in squalor, with dirty faces and matted hair. Their 48-year-old mother was said to be “totally indifferent and unconcerned” when confronted.

The youngsters were immediately taken into care when their plight was discovered in April last year, but it was revealed at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday that they had been returned to their parents just a week later.

Their children’s 35-year-old father, who had been carefully cultivating cannabis plants in a cupboard in the house as the children were neglected, was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service after admitting drug cultivation.

Sentence was deferred on the mother, who had admitted neglect.

Sheriff Michael O’Grady said he wanted to monitor the situation before sentencing her: “I view this as a serious matter and what I’m going to do does not reflect that I don’t. I want an eye to be kept on the situation and on you,” he said.

The mother’s solicitor, Keith Leishman, said social workers were meeting the couple every week: “The children were only away for a week and that might reflect the social work department’s attitude to their welfare,” he said.

However, Tory shadow minister for Children, Schools and Skills, Liz Smith, MSP, criticised the children’s return to their parents.

“I am deeply concerned by this announcement and I am sure that view will be shared by many people in the Niddrie community plus parent groups all across Scotland,” she said.

She added: “The punishment does not seem appropriate and there must be huge question-marks about the wisdom of allowing the children to remain where they are.”

However, Edinburgh’s children and families convener, Cllr Marilyne MacLaren, defended her staff.

“Our social workers always act in the best interests of the child and it’s a shame that the Tories are trying to score cheap political points at the expense of our dedicated staff when they do not know the details of the case,” she said.

A city council spokesman added: “It’s in the best interests of the children that the details of this case remain confidential but our staff always prioritise the safety of the child.”