‘Slow progress’ on child abuse claims in Pembrokeshire
Inspectors say there has been “slow progress” in improving key aspects of the way child abuse allegations are dealt with in Pembrokeshire.
A follow-up report says improvements have been made in child safeguarding.
But management of allegations against Pembrokeshire council professionals remains “inconsistent”. The council is considering the findings.
Claims had emerged of children locked in a padded “time-out” room at a referral unit.
The authority was heavily criticised by an earlier report in November 2011.
The latest review by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) says there has been a big increase in the number of referrals from schools in relation to allegations against professionals working with children.
This might be due to a “better understanding of safeguarding responsibilities”, the report says.
The Welsh government sent experts in to oversee the council in 2011 after serious problems were highlighted in safeguarding children.
Allegations have emerged about children being locked in rooms and of one’s hands being tied by a teacher.
In July, council leader Jamie Adams apologised to children who had been locked in a padded time-out room with no natural light or ventilation at a pupil referral unit in Neyland.
The review published on Friday looks at how 20 cases of alleged professional abuse were handled by the council and other agencies between April 2011 and April 2012.
Nineteen cases related to allegations against school or education staff and one involved a member of staff from social services.
The report says the poor quality of minutes for strategy meetings, first highlighted last year, has not improved.
It is one of seven “key areas” where “progress has been slow”.
In a few of these meetings it was apparent that the behaviour of children and their families were presented as problems.
The way issues were considered was “not always forensic” and sometimes there was an underlying tension between the agencies involved.
In some cases where professionals had been the subject of previous allegations relevant information was not always “assimilated and assesses”.
Police case records show staff who appeared to know about allegations were sometimes “reluctant” to disclose what they knew because of “fear of the adverse effect this would have on their employment or the reaction they would get from their colleagues”.
It says: “Overall this lack of consistency means that the authority and the police are yet to achieve the level of assurance they need about handling allegations of professional abuse.”
In a statement Pembrokeshire council said: “We are considering the findings in the report by the CSSIW and are continuing to focus our efforts on improving the arrangements for safeguarding children.”
The Welsh government welcomed the improvements and said it was “pleasing to see some positive progress being made”.
A spokesman added: “As the report notes however, there remain areas where the authority needs to make further improvement.
“The minister for education and skills reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring that Pembrokeshire works to address issues of concern and this report supports his approach. “
- June 2009: Complaint made about children being locked in a padded time-out room, with no natural light or ventilation, at the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Neyland.
- August 2011: Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) criticises management of child abuse allegations. Council and Dyfed-Powys Police were asked to review 25 cases and report findings of alleged professional abuse between 2007 and 2011.
- Schools inspectorate Estyn says policies for safeguarding children are “not fit for purpose”.
- September 2011: Welsh government ministers send a panel of experts into the council, after issuing the authority with a final warning.
- November 2011: A report from five inspectorates reveals a “lack of strategic leadership” over child protection.
- June 2012: Ministers warn progress is “worryingly slow” and that they have “grave concerns” about the authority. But the council leader says “significant steps” have been taken by officials and schools staff. New information about the controversy is passed to the police. Further details of allegations emerge, including a pupil’s hands being tied by a teacher and a padded room at a primary school.
- July 2012: Council leader makes a public apology to pupils who were put into a padded “time-out” room at referral unit. The children’s commissioner says he has a “cast-iron assurance” the room would never be used again.