Investigation ordered into councils' failure to protect children

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Indy Politics

Nearly 60 councils will be ordered to "investigate urgently" their child-protection regimes after a government review found they were failing to monitor youngsters at risk of abuse.

Nearly 60 councils will be ordered to "investigate urgently" their child-protection regimes after a government review found they were failing to monitor youngsters at risk of abuse.

The Department of Health's annual survey of the 150 social service departments in England highlighted child protection as one of the worst services offered during the past year.

Although councils improved their overall performance on a range of indicators, the league tables published today show that many failed to meet the needs of vulnerable youngsters and children in care.

More than £9bn of public money is spent on social services and some 1.5 million people a year use their facilities, ranging from the under-5s to the elderly.

The performance tables, which were first published last year, found that in the area of child monitoring many authorities were classified as "poor" and requiring "urgent investigation". Some 59 local authorities reviewed less than 85 per cent of the cases of the children on their "at risk" registers. The Government's demand, for 100 per cent to be reviewed, was met by only 29 councils.

Thousands of youngsters deemed to be in danger of sexual or physical assault have thus not had their cases assessed by social workers in 1999-2000. The worst performer in the country was Liverpool, where 22 per cent of children-at-risk cases were reviewed in the past year.

John Hutton, a health minister, said the figures were "unacceptable" and warned that he expected big improvements to be made over the next year. He said he was prepared to use his powers to intervene to correct the position if the underperforming services were not turned around quickly.

"It is not acceptable that one in six children deemed sufficiently at risk to be on the child-protection register have not had their cases reviewed when they should have been," he said.

"This is the area that gives me the biggest cause for concern. It is a serious issue that needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency."

Denise Platt, the chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate, agreed that the lack of regular reviews of the cases of the most vulnerable children in the community was extremely worrying.

"We would want to get the numbers much, much higher. These case reviews are crucial in getting everyone to sit down and discuss the child concerned," she said.

Another area of concern was the number of children leaving residential or foster care with poor school exam results, the survey found. About 30 per cent of teenagers leaving care achieved only one GCSE or vocational qualification, a figure way below the Government's target of 50 per cent by next year.

"None of us would accept that type of exam result for our own kids and we should not accept them for children in care," Mr Hutton said. "Councils must help looked-after children to succeed in school so that more opportunities are available to them as adults."

Among the elderly, the biggest failing was in the allocation of single rooms to those who went into permanent residential or nursing care. Four councils reported that less than two-thirds of such pensioners were allocated their own room.

The poor child protection and exam results figures marred the overall improvement in performance of social service departments last year, with clear evidence that standards have been raised.

Some 122 out of 150 councils have improved against 50 per cent or more of the indicators and all have shown some increase in performance. Of the 21 key indicators measured, 16 showed improvement, with only three showing deteriorating levels of service.

One of the biggest successes was the increase in the number of children adopted, a fact that will please Tony Blair after his decision to review all adoption law earlier this year.

The number of children offered the opportunity of a more stable home increased last year from 2,200 to 2,700.