Council's social services condemned

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The Independent Online
A DAMNING inquiry has concluded that the social services structure in the north London borough of Islington is outdated and unworkable.

It paints a picture of management incompetence, staff frustration, tortuous recruitment procedures and rock-bottom morale. The system is a 'maze' which only experienced staff can negotiate, says the report, published yesterday.

Launched in response to newspaper allegations of paedophiles, pimps and drug- pushers operating in children's homes run by the council, the two-month independent inquiry demands fundamental reforms.

The co-author, Emlyn Cassam, Norfolk County Council's former director of social services, said: 'It is outdated. I know of no social services department which works in the same way.'

Social workers and staff were expected to deal with too many complex issues including mental health, child abuse and the disabled, and come to grips with complicated legislation, he said. Humberside and East Sussex, which had previously operated similar 'generic' systems, had abandoned them as unworkable.

The report says: 'There was a constant cry from middle and senior managers they did not have the information to monitor what was going on.' It adds: 'Sometimes children seemed to be setting the agenda (in the homes).' The review calls for the Labour- run council to organise social workers into specialist teams. Reliance on agency staff should be reduced and training extended. The specific allegations of child abuse and paedophile rings remain unexamined.

A Social Services Inspectorate inquiry, announced yesterday by the Government, will only look at Islington's procedures for handling complaints of abuse.

Islington, which says it welcomes the report, will next week consider the recommendations. However, it says it may be unable to afford to carry them out.