Child protection standards slide in Edlington torture case council
PUBLISHED November 16, 2012
Michael Gove, the education secretary, is expected to announce measures to improve protection for vulnerable children as two highly critical reports into the crisis-hit Doncaster Council are published.
Ministers sent in a "turnaround team" to oversee work at the council two years ago after a string of cases highlighted failings in social services.
It followed the conviction of two brothers aged 11 and 12 who kidnapped and tortured two other boys leaving them for dead in 2009.
In one of the most shocking cases involving children for a generation, the brothers left their victims close to death after a 90-minute ordeal of violence and sexual humiliation.
Earlier this year a serious case review highlighted a failure to supervise the boys, who had been known to social services most of their lives.
Concerns had already been expressed about the council following the deaths of seven children in cases involving abuse or neglect.
A new report into the Edlington case, by Lord Carlile QC, will be published today alongside the findings of an unannounced Ofsted inspection in Doncaster.
It is understood that inspectors have downgraded child protection standards, which had shown signs of improvement, to "inadequate".
Inspectors, who spent 10 days intensively examining the department, found that it was failing to manage risks to children properly.
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.
Meanwhile the number of referrals has increased by two thirds and the area has double the national rate of children classed as "in need".
Mr Gove asked Lord Carlile to carry out a fresh review into the Edlington case and its aftermath earlier this year because he said the original review, which highlighted a string of missed opportunities, did not get to grips with why mistakes were made and how they could have been avoided.
Lord Carlile is reported to have recommended a series of measures to help uncover abuse earlier, such as annual medical check-ups on schoolchildren.
Chris Pratt, director of Doncaster children services, said: "It is clear that we have not yet fully recovered the systematically broken services that we previously had, and as Ofsted says, features of that systematic failure remain today.
"The reports do acknowledge progress has been made - and Lord Carlile's reporting states Doncaster is not faced with the shambolic situation of early 2009 - but I'm acutely aware our progress hasn't yet come far enough.
"As a result of better child protection work we are now actually working with an overwhelming number of children - including three times as many more child protection investigations compared to two years ago.
"Together with huge difficulties in attracting experienced social work professionals to work in Doncaster, this has put tremendous pressure on our services and meant our journey of recovery hasn't coped as well as we had planned.
"However, these are not excuses and we can and must do better to improve services.
"We are using these reports as a major opportunity to up our game and are determined to rejuvenate our improvement plan to speedily put in place the changes that will provide maximum protection for all our children and young people."
Bridget Robb, acting chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, claimed that social workers in Doncaster are struggling to cope with "draconian conditions" and a "bullying culture".
"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," she said.
"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."