Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, yesterday ordered the Social Services Inspectorate to prepare a report on the adequacy of child protection services in Islington, north London, in the wake of the charges.
Girls as young as 15 have been either lured into prostitution or sexually assaulted while living in children's homes run by Islington over the past year, according to reports in the London Evening Standard. Social workers complained their concerns about the running of the homes were ignored by senior management, they said.
The controversy erupted only three years after a judicial inquiry into the battering to death of a three-year-old boy, Liam Johnson, condemned the decentralised organisation of the borough's social services as a 'time bomb waiting to go off'. Critics say the devolving of the social services functions into 24 neighbourhood offices has led to poor co-ordination and communication.
Sandy Marks, chairwoman of Islington's social services committee, said that although the borough's children's homes were inspected monthly, she 'cannot be certain' that the allegations were unfounded. 'There is no way we can watch children in our care, some of whom are very damaged when they come to us, 24 hours a day without infringing their liberty.'
The council said it would ask a senior officer, outside the scope of social services, to carry out an investigation into the newspaper allegations and to report to members and officer colleagues within a month.
In a statement released from the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, Virginia Bottomley described the charges as 'serious and very worrying'.
Alarmed at long-standing complaints about inadequate 'arm's length' inspection of local authority homes by councils and the potential for 'cover-ups'of scandals, the Government last week outlined proposals to strengthen procedures and ensure reports of visits were published.
They will ensure lay membership of local inspection teams from next January. Local inspectors will have to report to council chief executives as well as social services directors.Reuse content