Council chiefs ignore abuse, says minister

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The Independent Online
HOME OFFICE minister Paul Boateng yesterday denounced the "appalling attitude" of some directors of social services who he accused of being complicit in child abuse by turning a blind eye to the problem.

In an astonishing attack, Mr Boateng pledged to "root out" senior managers in social services who he said had an "attitude which has bedevilled social work over the years".

The minister was angered by a comment made by an unnamed director of social services, who said of the Sex Offenders Act: "The whole thing is mad. It's the biggest can of worms anyone has opened."

The comment was published in a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary on Child Protection, which the Home Office released yesterday. Mr Boateng said he would be writing to the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) to say that the director responsible, and others who held such "utterly unacceptable" views, should not remain in post.

Mr Boateng said: "I think there still remains in some areas of social services a quite unacceptable attitude towards this particular area. They would rather turn a blind eye to it and they have been complicit over the years in failing children.

"They don't want to confront the particular evil and mischief that this phenomenon represents. They are running away from it. They would rather it just does not exist."

Two days ago, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, criticised "well-meaning but unprofessional" social workers for preventing children from being adopted. Some social services chiefs believe the Home Office has embarked on a concerted attack on their profession as a whole.

The Local Government Association said last night: "For a Home Office Minister like Paul Boateng to accuse social services chiefs of being `complicit' in sexual abuse of children is an outrageous slur and one he should be ashamed of. Comments like this damage not only social services but jeopardise any trust parents may have in social services departments."

Chris Davies, the president of the ADSS, said he had demanded "an immediate face-to-face meeting" with the minister, who, he hoped, had been speaking "in the heat of the moment".

He said: "How Mr Boateng has been able to see a brief comment from an anonymous director in that report as reflecting a lack of concern for children at risk of harm totally evades me."

Mr Boateng was adamant that he had not misinterpreted the "can of worms" comment.

He said: "It's because of an unwillingness to tackle the issues that we require to be tackled, that the worms have been allowed for much too long to propagate themselves in the way that they have.

"We are absolutely determined that we will turn the stone and that which exists under it, that is evil against children, will be tackled." The minister accused social services chiefs of letting down their "frontline" staff.

He added: "What appalls me is the failure of management at the highest level.

"These very hard-working men and women are often let down by their senior management and we are going to root out the sort of attitude that is exposed here."

The HMIC report highlighted numerous areas where police forces could do more to give children greater protection.

It blamed police and probation staff for leaking details about sex offenders to the media and called for much greater sharing of intelligence on the movements and activities of offenders, particularly those who cross force boundaries.

It highlighted numerous areas of best practice, including monitoring people who visit sex offenders in prison to identify potential or actual paedophile networks.

It called for clothing fibres to be taken from released sex offenders to match against future crime scenes and recommended greater liaison with chemists and other film developers to monitor child pornography.

And it said inmates should be encouraged to ring Crimestoppers from jail to pass on information about sex offenders.

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