Red tape hampers aid for vulnerable children

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Bureaucracy is still hampering attempts to get help to vulnerable and abused children, headteachers warned yesterday.

School leaders were told of one example of a nine-year-old boy with an alcoholic mother who failed to turn up for lessons one day. When a staff member was sent to the home to find out why, his mother was found collapsed on the floor with the boy in the house.

The school's headteacher had contacted the local social services for help – but was told she had to fill in an 11-page assessment form before any action could be taken.

The story was revealed at the National Association of Head Teachers' annual conference in Brighton yesterday in the wake of a survey of eight local authorities covering 1,000 schools which showed all eight were having difficulties contacting child protection staff in emergencies.

In the case of the nine-year-old boy, he is still with his mother eight weeks later, with no action having been taken, Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said. The case came to light following a government inquiry into the death of Baby P, the Haringey toddler who was found with 50 serious injuries on his death at the hands of his mother, her partner and her lodger.

In another case, Chris Hill, headteacher of a primary school in west London, told how a social worker had recommended that a child be taken into care last July – but went on maternity leave and another social worker had not yet been assigned to the case. Meanwhile, the child's mother had lost a baby following an assault by her partner, Mr Hill said.

One headteacher, Gail Larkin, from Wrexham, said she had only managed to get help to a vulnerable child because she employed a family support worker at the school out of her own budget.

The survey of the eight authorities said that access to social services "was never easy" and referrals were "certainly not quick".

It concluded: "NAHT has the greatest respect for colleagues in social services and we recognise that they are often working in highly charged situations and often find themselves caught up in highly bureaucratic administration that prevents the essential early intervention work that can avoid crises."