The Department of Health has accused Lancashire County Council of deliberately misleading the public by claiming the standard of its child care had been applauded. The Government is currently considering requests for an independent inquiry.
In an unprecedented intervention, the Social Services Inspectorate, responsible for monitoring local social services' departments, has publicly upbraided Lancashire for misrepresenting a recent report to local councillors and the media.
Last November, the Independent and the Channel 4 programme Dispatches investigated allegations that the local social services had encouraged single mothers to have abortions, and sterilisations, and reported instances in which families alleged that social workers had acted unethically and in contravention of the spirit of the 1989 Children Act. Lancashire reacted by vigorously defending its social services department.
Last week, Lancashire Social Services Committee heard Joan Humble, the chairwoman, cite an SSI report in defence of the department, which she said had reported on "excellent work with children in need". She told councillors and members of the public that the SSI had "acknowledged that the Social Services Department has tried hard to implement polices and procedures according to the principles of the Children Act".
Her statement was reported extensively in the local media, as were the shocked reactions of local organisations campaigning for an independent inquiry into the allegations.
The statement prompted the Chief Inspector of the SSI, Herbert Laming, to intervene. He said: "The county council's press release only partially describes SSI's overall evaluation of services to children in need in Lancashire. No mention was made of a number of significant criticisms..."