Tina Gelder takes a look at the two damning reports out today. They conclude that vulnerable children on the streets of Doncaster are still not safe and children's services at the council are inadequate.
The Chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, Councillor David Simmonds, made this responsoe to Lord Carlile's report:
This report shows quite clearly that Whitehall intervention isn’t working and as a sector we stand ready to support those councils who need it to ensure they are doing the very best for our children and providing the kind of good quality services they rightly deserve. We are keen to have conversations with the Department for Education about how the sector can help in those councils where direct government intervention has not brought about much needed improvement, but we can’t let the debate around who provides services overshadow the most import issue – the safety of our children.
– Councillor David Simmonds, Local Government Association
Councils up and down the country are committed to doing all they can to protect vulnerable children and ensure they remain safe from harm. While it’s encouraging that on the whole we know child protection services are getting better, we can’t escape the reality that in some areas services need to significantly improve. Councils are baring the brunt of reductions to children’s services, but we are concerned that with further deep cuts to come it’s going to be difficult for even the very best performing local authorities to provide the same level of assurance in future years.
The British Association of Social Workers has responded to the reports by both Lord Carlile and Ofsted.
Chief executive Bridbget Robb has warned that concerns such as those highlighted over failing children’s services at Doncaster will remain unless bureaucracy is reduced and cuts reversed to allow social workers to do their job. Ms Robb highlighted concern over management practices in Doncaster.
No assessment of the standards of social work practice in Doncaster is complete without an understanding that social workers in the local authority have been working under draconian conditions and within a bullying culture. Staff there were recently issued with a 'signed or be sacked' ultimatum to accept cuts to their pay and conditions, so it is no surprise that Doncaster has problems recruiting and retaining staff, and has subsequently been downgraded by Ofsted.
These unacceptable issues in Doncaster are exacerbated, there and elsewhere, by the single biggest issue currently facing the majority of child protection professionals in England – that social workers are simply not getting time to see children. GPs are not expected to cure people by filling in forms instead of seeing patients, yet social workers remain chained to their desks unable to spend time with vulnerable children who need their support.
– BASW’s chief executive Bridget Robb
Excessive bureaucracy, deep cuts to support staff and rising caseloads mean that few local authorities in England can say their social workers operate in a suitably safe and acceptable environment. Social workers are already at the front line, they know the problems, and they know the solutions, but their voice is still being overlooked by ministers in favour of advice from highly paid consultants, who often lack both
The council said social workers had been overwhelmed by a dramatic rise in the number of cases they have to deal with since the overhaul began. The number of child protection investigations in the area has trebled in the last two years to almost 1,800 a year.
Lord Carlile said his report summarises more than 100 important events affecting the brothers who committed the assault, between May 2005 and April 2009. He said in the report:
– Lord Carlile of Berriew
It is simply shocking to reflect that, over 100 events after the first, the two boys were out on the streets uncontrolled to the extent that they very nearly ended the life of a boy of their own age. With those events in mind, including their sheer volume, it hardly requires a report like this to note with regret that the Doncaster social and other relevant services failed to co-ordinate any realistic attempt to address the problems caused by, and of course faced by (the brothers).
Lord Carlile said there needed to be a "radical look at the way interventions are assessed" and said he had encountered disquiet over the current presumption that a child should be kept with its natural parents if at all possible.
– Lord Carlile of Berriew
I recommend that we need to take a radical look at the way interventions are assessed and dealt with. Some old assumptions may not be as sound as has been suggested. There has been a degree of disquiet suggested to me at the length to which the system sometimes acts to uphold a key principle in the Children Act 1989 that a child's best place is with the natural parents wherever possible.
Chris Pratt, the director of children and young people's services in Doncaster responds to today's reports. He says that while a "lot of progress" has been made, the authority is "not doing right" by its children.
Weaknesses remain in child protection services at Doncaster Council according to Lord Carlile's report. It coincides with a highly critical inspection report by Ofsted on the town's child protection services.
– Lord Carlile of Berriew
I found that Doncaster today is not faced with the shambolic situation of early 2009. However, there remain weaknesses, which have been highlighted by the consequences of a severely critical report following an Ofsted inspection in October 2012 of the arrangements in Doncaster for the protection of children."
The council has admitted services have not improved enough since the events of 2009. The incident which sparked the controversy was a savage attack in which two brothers lured their victims to a secluded spot and subjected them to 90 minutes of violence and sexual humiliation.
The brothers had been placed with foster carers by Doncaster council shortly before the attacks. They had grown up in an extremely violent home in a different part of Doncaster, where they watched ultra-violent movies and pornography and were exposed to drink and drugs.
The council at the centre of a child protection storm after the Edlington case has admitted that "features of that systematic failure remain today". Doncaster Council made the comments ahead of the publication of two reports which are expected to be highly critical of services in the town.
The first was ordered by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove in March. That report, by Lord Carlile, is due to be published along with the latest report on child protection in Doncaster following an unannounced 10-day inspection last month by Ofsted.