Councils failed to check on childcare

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FOUR councils in north Wales where childcare has been at the centre of various abuse inquires for more than seven years have been criticised by the Welsh Office for failing to inspect child minders.

Under the Children Act, drawn up to protect and safeguard young people, councils have a statutory duty to inspect, at least once a year, carers who look after young children to make sure they are doing the job properly.

The Welsh Office found, however, that eight out of the 22 social services departments in the principality had not inspected a total of more than 1,000 registered child minders and they have been asked to explain their failure to do so.

"We have been very disturbed by the results from our first monitoring of inspections in day care for under-eights," says a report to councils from the Welsh Office Social Services Inspectorate. "The chief inspector of social services in Wales has reminded the authorities of the statutory duties under the Children Act and expressed the department's concern at the large-scale failure of these authorities to discharge their duties in this important area of safeguards for children."

In north Wales, four of the local authorities failed to inspect some 250 minders at a time that the North Wales Child Abuse Tribunal was being set up to investigate widespread allegations of abuse by carers.

In his closing speech to the tribunal, Merfyn Hughes, QC, representing all the councils in north Wales, reassured the chairman, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, that the new authorities recognised the weaknesses of the past. "Now, having listened to the allegations of abuse of the children in care, they are renewed in their determination to ensure that never again will there be such evidence of failures to protect children on the scale which has been placed before you," he said.

But the Social Services Inspectorate report reveals that in the year 1996-97 - which covered the opening period of the inquiry - four of the councils in the area that had been Clwyd and Gwynedd before local government reorganisation were not carrying out their statutory responsibilities to protect children by inspecting child minders.

The report shows that Gwynedd council inspected only 25 out of 156 minders; the Isle of Anglesey, 25 out of 88; Wrexham, 40 out of 89; and Denbighshire, 42 out of 78.

In south Wales, Swansea failed to inspect any of its 249 registered child minders during the year, while Cardiff managed to look at only 101 out of 647.

Hugh Gardner, secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Services in Wales, said yesterday: "Clearly it is an important duty and is something we will be looking at urgently to ensure we fulfil our statutory duties. There is a statutory duty to inspect under the Children Act and what has happened is that there wasn't adequate resources for implementation of the Act."

Pat Davies, an early years specialist with the Children in Wales organisation, said: "One of the keys to quality is regular inspection and support and it is very worrying it is not happening."