Separate heads will improve Aberdeen's child protection services

The alarming state of Aberdeen's child protection services will be improved by the city council's move away from its controversial "neighbourhood" structure and the reinstatement of separate heads of social work and education, key figures in children's services believe.

Inspectors said in a report that they were not confident that children at risk would receive the help they needed, but there is a belief within Aberdeen that simplifying the city council's structure will help.

The council has previously been criticised for its division of services under three neighbourhood directors, but recently appointed interim heads of education and social work. New chief executive, Sue Bruce, who will take up her post next month, has left the door open for a permanent move to a more traditional structure.

An influential figure in the city's child protection services, who asked not to be named, said staff would have a better idea of who to contact if there was a clearer hierarchy and a head of social work for the city.

"Now that we're going back toward directors of social work and education, that will help make things better," said Grant Bruce, local secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland.

He said the neighbourhood structure had resulted in the separation of service delivery and strategic functions; bringing those back together would also improve child protection.

Jim Wallace, assistant director of children's services for Barnardo's in Aberdeen, said coverage of the HMIE report had made much of the council's financial problems, but all child protection services had to take responsibility. He added that there had been improvements since inspectors visited several months ago.

Diane McCabe, director of children and family services for Aberdeen charity VSA, said that since June, a multi-agency team had been meeting regularly to "ensure the protection of Aberdeen's children".

The report, published last week, rated 10 of 18 criteria as "weak", the worst rating, including all four categories under "individual and collective leadership". On many occasions, effective action was not taken until "crisis point", and some children at significant risk of harm were left at home because no safe places were available. Inspectors were concerned about the number inadequately protected from high-risk situations involving drug-abusing parents.

The publication coincided with national headlines on the failure of social workers in the London borough of Haringey to prevent the abuse and death of "Baby P".

HMIE has demanded a report from Aberdeen City Council within four months on what action will be taken. Inspectors will make a follow-up visit within a year.

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