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Agencies slow to act on abuse

Headteachers warn that they face an uphill struggle to ensure children at risk are protected. Julie Henry reports.

HEADTEACHERS say they face an uphill struggle for action when they raise fears about pupils being abused.

The claim by the National Association of Head Teachers follows the Waterhouse report into widespread child abuse in North Wales care homes.

Recommendations in the report include sexual abuse awareness training for teachers. They would also be periodically reminded of their important role in identifying and reporting abuse.

The NAHT said schools did take their child protection responsibilities seriously but faced widespread inertia when concerns were brought to the attention of child protection agencies.

Gareth James, NAHT senior assistant secretary, said: "Getting agencies to look at the safety and security of children seems to take for ever. "It is an uphill struggle to get concerns taken seriously, despite the fact that headteachers are professionals who do not raise concerns lightly."

Rob Hutchinson, chair of children and families committee for te Association of Social Services Directors, said: "The respective responsibilities of schools and social services and the procedures they should follow are quite clear.

"Individual failures, on both sides, may be caused by bad practice, staff shortages or a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the situation. "Failure to respond needs to be addressed, whether it is by education in reporting abuse, or by social services in following it up."

Jo Williams, president of the Association of Social Services Directors, said: "There may be pressures in the system but if someone believes a child is at risk, their voice must be heard."

Two-thirds of social services authorities warned the Department of Health that they were struggling to recruit the staff needed to protect children.

A Local Government Association task group has been set up to tackle staff shortages. The Care Standards Bill, to become law later this year, will establish independent social services councils to register workers, set standards in care and regulate the education and training of social workers.

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