Legacy of a murdered child
The sharing of information about vulnerable children in the Highland Council area has improved since the murder of five-year-old Danielle Reid in 2002, but risk assessments still need to be tightened up.
A report published last year on the circumstances surrounding Danielle's death found that she was "essentially invisible" to the services expected to protect her, and that better joint working might have kept her alive.
Danielle's body was dumped in the Caledonian Canal, Inverness, in January 2003 after her mother's partner, Lee Gaytor, had attacked her. He was jailed for life for Danielle's murder, and her mother, Tracy, received an eight-year sentence for her involvement.
Findings published by HM Inspectorate of Education yesterday examined the response to 68 recommendations in last year's report. This was combined with findings based on the response to a pilot inspection of the area's entire range of child-protection services, a process that is now being rolled out across Scotland.
The resulting HMIE report finds that "significant progress" has been made in improving communication between services.
One important area of progress was Highland Council's implementation of "effective systems" for locating children missing from education, as officials had lost track of Danielle when her mother withdrew her from school.
The report also stated that workers increasingly shared information about adults who might pose a risk to children, while police had made information accessible to other services in order to protect children.
Staff were "well supported" and leadership had become "stronger and more ambitious", with a "strong ethos" of working bet-ween agencies.
The report concludes that progress was "encouraging in most areas" but that assessment of risks and needs required improvement to ensure that the right services reached all children.
Progress on the development of technology to allow quick and effective information sharing, for example, was "variable", with the incompatibility of IT systems and recording methods posing "considerable challenges".
Responsibility for assessment of risk remained mainly with social work services, whereas, the report says, in a few cases there was a need for more thorough consideration of risk.
Bruce Robertson, Highland Council's director of education, culture and sport, said: "This was a follow-through inspection to the original child-protection inspection. We found both very useful.
"It does confirm a lot of good work in Highland on child-protection matters, and it's treated as a very high priority by the council and partner agencies. We certainly will continue to prioritise child protection across the Highlands."
Meanwhile, Scotland's first full inspection of a council area's entire range of child protection services - following the Highland pilot - concludes that action is taken to help vulnerable young people in East Lothian, but that some are kept waiting too long.
HMIE was confident that children needing protection in East Lothian were known to services, and that steps were being taken to improve their lives.
Some children, however, waited too long for decisions to be made and remained un-certain about their future. Further work, inspectors said in the report, was required to develop "clear, agreed and shared thresholds of risk" that would minimise the possibility of children being in dangerous situations.
An East Lothian Council spokeswoman said that plans to improve services were already in place. The holder of a new post will start work this spring, for example, with the aim of encouraging young people, families and carers to help plan and deliver children's services.
The full report can be found on www.tes.co.ukscotland