BASW Cymru urges “enshrined” joint working in wake of council failings

BASW has called for a renewed emphasis on joint working between professionals after inspectors in Wales criticised the directors of social services and education at a council over its handling of allegations of abuse made against school staff.

A report published by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and Estyn, the inspectorate for education and training, has found that both directors at Pembrokeshire County Council failed to show leadership on safeguarding.

The social services department was also criticised for not effectively supporting the education department to discharge its safeguarding responsibilities in dealing with cases of alleged professional abuse.

BASW Cymru manager Robin Moulster said more effort is needed to “enshrine a culture of joint working”. He commented: “The report once again highlights the deficiencies in different departments who have worked in parallel but unconnected ways. It is essential that joint working and effective information sharing are the ‘norm’. Child protection is everyone’s responsibility and statutory agencies need to lead by example. Joint training and information sharing protocols are essential ways of creating a shared ownership.”

The report, based on the local authority’s handling of 25 cases between 2007 and 2011, found that information about accused staff – including headteachers, learning support assistants and youth workers – was not routinely shared and records of strategy meetings held to evaluate the risk they posed were not always kept on social services files. It also found an absence of there no was systemic procedure for record keeping if an allegation was made against a member of staff.

The inspectorates launched an investigation into the Council’s procedures for dealing with safeguarding allegations, following the conviction of headteacher David Thorley on nine counts of sexually assaulting female students in July 2009.

Their report found that in the cases they looked at – involving children aged between three and 16, 35% of whom had learning or special educational needs – a decision was taken not to suspend the worker, despite the views of social services and the police that they were a risk to children. It found that the duty to safeguard children was sometimes outweighed by the previous good record of accused staff.

In some cases staff were assigned other duties or ‘managers inappropriately considered redundancy, resignation or retirement instead of assessing and managing risks’.

A ‘culture of trust’ operated among staff, says the report, which found a lack of awareness of child abuse indicators and what to do if there were concerns about a child among professionals. ‘It is appropriate that staff are trusted to get on with their work, but managers need to monitor that agreed decisions and actions are completed and that the quality of the work is good enough.

‘Because of failures to do this, senior managers and elected members do not have a good enough grasp of what is happening, and they rely too much on what they are told.’

Inspectors have also criticised the chief executive and chief officers for attempting to deflect responsibility for shortcomings at the council – by arguing that the Welsh government had failed to provide guidance – by stating that there was ‘no excuse’ for the system’s failings.

Leader of Pembrokeshire county council John Davies said the local authority had received the reports with a “sense of deep disappointment and dismay”, adding: “We are not hiding from the matters raised in these reports and I want to assure parents that we are working tirelessly to ensure children are as safe as it is possible to make them.”

Councillor Huw George, cabinet member for children, young people, learning and Welsh language, added that the council had taken the report to heart and had established a Safeguarding Accountability and Improvement Board which will be chaired by Mr Davies.

The council has set up a helpline for parents, children and young people affected by the report.

Read the full report here: