Boy ‘suffered’ after Pembrokeshire council ‘delay’

A council has been criticised for the way it investigated complaints that a young boy was left alone with a convicted child abuser.

Serious shortcomings have been found in the way Pembrokeshire council dealt with concerns about the boy’s welfare.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales found the council to be slow at initiating child protection procedures.

The council said it accepted the report and had agreed to carry out the actions recommended in it.

The boy’s father had complained about delays in the council’s response to concerns he raised about his son, now nine, while in his mother’s care.

He said his son suffered from neglect and was at risk of harm.

Emotional problems

The ombudsman also said a referral from the NSPCC that the child was being left alone with a member of the family convicted of child abuse was not properly investigated.

The father had separated from the child’s mother in 2002 and they were subsequently divorced. The boy continued living with his mother.
Measures should have been taken sooner to safeguard A and to promote his welfare
Ombudsman’s report

The child had emotional problems, and his education and development were delayed as a result.

The father, who has not been identified but is called Mr W in the report, complained about a delay by the council “in initiating child protection and ultimately care order proceedings” for his son when he was in the care of his mother.

He said there was “inadequate assessment and investigation” in response to his concerns and those from other agencies, including the emergency services.

The ombudsman’s investigation found “serious shortcomings” in the way concerns were dealt with.

The father told BBC Wales: “My son was in the care of his mother and I moved away back in 2001/2002.

“I found out recently that my son was being neglected and Pembrokeshire social services had failed in their duty of care for my son.

“He was known to them for a while and I was aware of small amounts of information with regards to his hygiene and his schooling and his speech and general development.”

But he added he was not aware until later of an incident in which his son, called ‘A’ in the report, suffered a burn to his hand which he said his mother had caused.

‘Not properly investigated’

The report said: “Although social workers were aware of A’s mother’s family history, early assessments did not address the need to ensure that A’s mother acknowledged the risks and kept her children safe.

“A referral that A was being left alone with a second close family member, convicted of child abuse, was not properly investigated.

“When inquiries were made about this several months later it prompted a child protection conference.”

The ombudsman said the council was “tardy in initiating child protection procedures despite referrals from the emergency services in December 2005”.

“This pointed to an 18-month delay before A was registered as a child at risk, and measures should have been taken sooner to safeguard A and to promote his welfare,” said the ombudsman.

Foster carers

Referrals had also been made from the child’s school but the ombudsman found there was no written record of the council’s response.

Neighbours also expressed concern about activities at the mother’s property such as drinking, noise and the possibility of drug use.

The ombudsman concluded the boy had suffered as a result of the council’s delay in taking action.

His recommendations included payments of £5,000 to the boy and £500 to his father for “identified shortcomings in complaint handling and for his time and trouble in submitting the complaint”.

The child is now in a long-term placement with foster carers and is said to be doing well.

Identified weaknesses

Pembrokeshire council said it accepted that, with the benefit of hindsight, the statutory powers to investigate the child’s circumstances, and to consider whether to register the child as being at risk, should have been invoked earlier.

The council said in a statement: “During 2005, the social services child protection team was enhanced by the appointment of two duty managers and the following year by the appointment of a new team manager.

“While there were identified weaknesses in elements of the handling of this case, especially in recording decisions, there was no suggestion that the child suffered as a result of his relationship with two relatives who were schedule one offenders, and we are pleased that he is now responding well in his new circumstances.

“We understand his father is also now satisfied with the arrangements for his son.

“The issue being dealt with in this case took place almost five years ago and since that time successive inspections by the Social Services Inspectorate, Wales have recognised the continuing improvements in the service and the importance placed in the service by the county council.”