Council fails children at risk

8th February 2008 at 00:00
The official in charge of services to protect vulnerable children in Clackmannanshire apologises.

A damning joint inspection report has found that health, education, police and social services are failing to protect vulnerable children in Scotland's smallest mainland local authority.

Clackmannanshire's services to protect children received eight "weak" ratings, including leadership and direction; meeting children's needs; and involving children and their families.

The council's "effectiveness of plans to meet needs" was deemed "unsatisfactory". No elements of the service were found to be "very good" or "excellent".

The official in charge has issued an unprecedented apology after inspectors concluded that children in the area were at risk of harm, abuse and neglect, with action only taken when the situation reached crisis point.

Some children and families, the report stated, felt "no-one knew their whole story" and found it difficult to form "trusting relationships" with social workers because of the high turnover of staff. In March last year, the service was operating with just a third of the necessary staff - at one point, 12 out of 18 frontline posts were vacant.

The report also highlights examples of children's names being removed from the child protection register without a thorough assessment of their circumstances; symptoms of long-term neglect being missed because medical examinations were not requested; and case conferences not taking place because it was unclear who should convene them, or staff received their invitations to attend too late.

According to the report, published yesterday, emergency cases of abuse in Clackmannanshire received prompt action and children at immediate risk were made safe. However, some children - such as those suffering neglect or emotional abuse - did not receive the right help at the right time.

"Children remained in circumstances which placed their welfare at risk until their situation deteriorated," it said. Blamed in the report for the failure are "poor communication, inaccurate recording and a lack of chronologies", which "hindered the identification of patterns of risk over time".

It continued: "Child protection plans did not always clearly define the actions to be taken to reduce the risks to each child, the responsible person for those actions, or the timescales by which they should be achieved."

Dave Jones, Clackmannanshire Council's chief executive, who is chairman of the Forth Valley Child Protection Strategy Group, apologised for allowing services to fall "below an acceptable level".

But he said improvements had already begun: "We brought in an external consultant to draw up an action plan and completely restructured the child care service."

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