Care agencies are 'black hole'

Employment firms accused of failing to check for child abusers, reports Nicholas Timmins
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The Independent Online
A social work agency with offices in London, Birmingham, Stratford and Manchester yesterday refused point-blank to discuss checks it carries out before supplying child-care and other staff to social services departments.

A Mr Dadral at the Ealing headquarters of SWIIS, which advertises for staff in Community Care, the main social work trade magazine, slammed the phone down on the Independent when asked to detail them.

He did so as Ian White, director of social services for Oxfordshire and chairman of the Islington child abuse inquiry, warned that agency staff were the "black hole" in the system for preventing child abusers from taking posts in local authority child care. Some make few, if any checks, he said.

Local authorities carried a heavy responsibility to ensure the agencies fulfil the 1992 requirements of the Warner report to check in full the past history of staff they hire.

He had raised the issue of tighter agency regulation with the Departments of Health and Employment. "But I am afraid that the Government is in de- regulatory mood, and anything which smacks of greater regulation does not get the hearing I would have hoped."

When the Independent first contacted Mr Dadral at SWIIS he refused to give his name. When asked what checks his agency made, he said: "I can't comment on that." He then hung up.

When the Independent phoned back, he gave his second name, refused to give his first other than an initial 'B', or to give his position, although we had been put through to him after asking to speak to the chief executive or director of the organisation.

"We never discuss any matters over the phone, and I am not prepared to discuss this on the phone," Mr Dadral said, inviting us to write to him.

By contrast, Janet Slevin, director of Resource Care Services, a London- based specialist child-care social work agency, said it always carries out police checks, takes up all references, and checks in writing with two employers, the current, and usually, the next most recent. She invited the Independent to the agency to see the procedures in action. Agency Cover Ltd, likewise, detailed extensive checks and invited the Independent to visit.

The Warner report in 1992 said all candidates should provide a full employment history to the month, with spells of unemployment spelt out and detailed and that where necessary, employers should check employment history and references verbally as well as by letter.

Norman Warner, who chaired that inquiry after the Beck child abuse cases, said yesterday written references alone could be bland "and hide as much as they answer".

Mr White said: "Most paedophiles do not have criminal or other records, and it is essential that employers, agencies and voluntary organisations are extremely vigilant. Otherwise it is very easy for people to get access to children in care."