Pembrokeshire council accused of playing down failure to safeguard children
THE Welsh Government has accused a council of “playing down” its failure to safeguard children.
Education Minister Leighton Andrews and Deputy Minister for Social Services and Children Gwenda Thomas wrote to Pembrokeshire council yesterday accusing it of failing to recognise the gravity of the situation.
In a letter sent to council leader John Davies, they accused Pembrokeshire of lacking “rigour and urgency”.
A report by schools inspectorate Estyn and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales was described by Children’s Commissioner Keith Towler earlier this month as “deeply disturbing”.
It found a shocking failure to manage allegations of child abuse in schools in Pembrokeshire.
“Amongst the cases, there are examples where children and young people have been put at risk as a direct result of the action or lack of action by the local authority,” said the letter.
“The gravity of the circumstances of some of these cases must be recognised by you and the elected members of the authority. They involve serious cases of children being harmed as a result of actions taken by staff employed in schools and by the authority.
“For this reason, the inspectorates have repeatedly asked your authority to review the management and handling of these cases to ensure that all the necessary action has been taken.
“Your authority has demonstrated a lack of rigour and urgency in undertaking this work, as evidenced by the fact that if was not until the inspectors started to point out some of the issues that your authority even realised that there was a problem.”
The ministers also said statements made in the media had been misleading and the seriousness of cases had been “minimised”.
They raised concerns over statements from two councillors, including Mr Davies who was quoted as telling BBC Radio Wales: “When you read the report, and it has been recognised, it is about the potential of harm, rather than actual harm.”
In a separate interview, Huw George, cabinet member for children and young people, told BBC Wales: “No harm came to these children, to say that it was luck is not right.”
The inspectorates’ report investigated 25 cases of allegations of child abuse in the county’s education services by professionals, ranging from headteachers to youth workers, between April 2007 and March 2011.
It found that in three cases a decision was taken not to suspend the accused, despite views of social services and the police to the contrary.
In a further two cases, the authority decided to assign the accused to different duties in another location rather than suspend them, leaving them in a position of authority and trust.
In half of the cases, there was no evidence parents had been given full information about an allegation.
The report also identified basic problems in keeping records about staff and any investigations that took place.
In their letter, Mr Andrews and Ms Thomas said failure to accept serious flaws in human resources processes was “extremely worrying”.
They said in some cases action had been taken only when prompted by ministers and no pro-active effort was made to contact parents directly.
They were also concerned about levels of transparency and were surprised to learn that inspection reports do not routinely go before council.
“The lack of challenge of officers by cabinet is unusual,” they concluded.
“It is insufficient to state that the constitution delegates operational matters to officers; council should have a strategic overview and must provide direction and challenge to its officers, and you must accept that your role as leader is to ensure this happens.”
Mr Davies, who will chair a new Safeguarding Accountability and Improvement Board, said some of the comments in the letter were factually inaccurate.
“I intend to respond fully to the issues raised and will be willing to make public my response to the ministers once they have had the opportunity to consider its contents,” he added.