Deficiencies in child protection services 'life-threatening'

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Poor planning and bad risk assessment threaten vulnerable children. Henry Hepburn reports

Scotland's most comprehensive report into child protection has found that lives are at risk because of piecemeal planning and inadequate risk assessment. HMIE analysis shows that in some criteria crucial to the long- term welfare of vulnerable children, improvements are needed throughout Scotland.

The former Scottish Executive announced a multi-disciplinary children's services inspection team, based at HMIE, in March 2004. Inspections took place in 30 local authorities between May 2006 and March 2009, leading to a national report published yesterday.

It shows a quarter of local authority areas had "serious weaknesses" that increased children's risk of harm - a figure The TESS reported in September - and there is much room for improvement in Scotland. "Assessment of risk and needs, and planning to meet needs, are key areas for development nationally," said HMIE senior chief inspector Graham Donaldson. "Along with information-sharing, deficiencies in these areas carry a high degree of risk of failure to adequately protect children. Consequences of such deficiencies can be life-threatening."

Assessment of risks and needs was "highly variable": not "very good" or "excellent" in any authority, and "weak" or "unsatisfactory" in 13.

The quality of records-keeping "varied considerably". School nurse and health visitor records, for example, were often "incomplete, lacked organisation, and did not always accurately record child-protection concerns". In most parts of the country, education files were not structured well and child-protection information was not recorded appropriately.

Child-protection plans were another crucial area for national improvement: planning to meet needs of vulnerable children was weak or unsatisfactory in 10 out of 30 areas, and no area was excellent. Operational planning was another key priority: it was described as weak, the lowest rating, in nine areas.

HMIE also found that children became more vulnerable if they did not appear on the child-protection register. Occasionally, support was withdrawn when a child came off the CPR and, "in a significant number of areas", there were delays in meeting the needs of vulnerable children not on the CPR.

Long-term support for those recovering from neglect and abuse was "variable". There were often waiting lists for specialist services, and children did not always get the help and support they needed early enough.

Evidence of leadership to drive improvement was "variable", but nine follow-up inspections revealed "satisfactory" or better progress in almost all of 47 points for action.

Neil McKechnie, chief inspector for child protection, also highlighted positive findings for accountability and the range of services to help children early in their lives.

Improvements will be made to the national Child Protection Line early in 2010, after an independent report found it had been largely ineffective and offered poor value since its 2007 launch. The 24-hour line will be staffed by qualified child-protection professionals who will be able to refer cases to local services.


A trial approach to supporting children, backed by the Scottish Government, has been successful in Highland. Edinburgh University researchers analysed the Getting It Right For Every Child "pathfinder project", which aims to improve joint working and address all needs from birth to 18.

Findings include:

- two-thirds of sampled reports showing improvements for children;

- non-offence referrals to the children's reporter cut by 70 per cent;

- families feeling one team is supporting them, rather than many;

- families, now more involved in finding solutions, having a better understanding of what is happening;

- earlier and more appropriate intervention halving the rate of children placed on the child-protection register;

- better-quality information collected, creating more trust among staff;

- less time spent writing multiple reports on the same children; families no longer having to repeat stories.

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