Special report: Haringey children's services - 'They said things would change after Baby Peter'

The north London council at the centre of recent tragedies has launched yet another serious case review

Paul Gallagher
Sunday 03 November 2013 01:00

The council that repeatedly promised to protect its children following the deaths of Baby Peter and Victoria Climbié has launched yet another serious case review (SCR) into a child abuse case, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. The new investigation has started only a month after the publication of Haringey's last SCR into Child T, a three-year-old who was beaten so badly with a belt, stick and cable that he was hospitalised yet was still returned to the family home, where the abuse continued. The latest investigation is the council's sixth known SCR – investigations into serious incidents of child abuse – since the report into Baby Peter's death was published in 2009.

Graham Badman, independent chair of Haringey's local safeguarding children board's (LSCB), who commissioned the second report into the Baby Peter tragedy, said: "There is a further serious case review being undertaken and it does concern a child, but further than that I cannot comment as the matter is sub judice. IIf it transpires that the SCR gets to publication stage then we will make it public."

Two adults have been arrested and charged with child abuse. The child alleged to be the victim of abuse has been taken into care.

News of the latest investigation prompted fresh calls for an independent inquiry into children's care services in Haringey, north London.This revelation follows the disclosure that Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey's former head of children's services, had agreed a "six-figure" compensation payment after being unfairly dismissed following the Baby Peter tragedy. It was also revealed this week that Baby Peter's mother, who was jailed over his death, has been freed from prison. Tracey Connelly was jailed for a minimum of five years in 2009 after admitting causing or allowing her son's death.

One source told The IoS: "There is endemic failure at the council that something needs to be done. The council wants to be able to say that lessons were learned, changes have been made and this sort of abuse is unlikely to happen again. They said things would change after Baby P. They said things would change after Child T. What is it going to say when this SCR is published? The review may well exonerate the council, of course, but we'll wait and see."

Local MP Lynne Featherstone, whose call for an independent investigation into Haringey children's services following the Child T case was rejected by the council, echoed their frustration last night. "I was leader of the opposition at the council during the Victoria Climbié tragedy and remember people saying lessons will be learnt, but it keeps on happening. The fact the same cases crop up again and again is the most disturbing thing. Nick Walkley is probably the best chief executive Haringey has had in a long time, but I don't know if these issues can be dealt with from within. There must be an independent investigation."

The IoS has spoken to several sources at Labour-led Haringey who expressed serious concerns at what they described as a damaging lack of stability in children's services. Huge funding cuts are placing an unprecedented squeeze on resources, resulting in the merger of about 50 children and adult services at UK councils at a time when the number of children on the at-risk register has almost doubled from 25,000 in 2008 to more than 45,000 today.

Haringey has had four directors of children's services in the past five years and a high turnover of middle managers. Last month, the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) heard a former Haringey social worker suspended for child protection failings had nine different managers in the three years she worked at the council. Diana Onyango was a social worker in Haringey's safeguarding and support service between October 2008 and December 2011 when the failings relating to safeguarding of the two children occurred.

She was suspended from frontline duties and, following an internal investigation and disciplinary hearing, dismissed. At the HCPC hearing, Ms Onyango admitted faults but said she was hampered by a number of factors, including the inaccessibility of her manager and a lack of support, training and guidance. Originally from Uganda, she told the hearing she had no previous experience of social work in the UK, yet received no feedback on her work until June 2011. The panel concluded that to strike Ms Onyango from the register would be "disproportionate", and said that with further mentoring and guidance, she could "contribute to her profession in the future". She was suspended for 12 months.

According to government guidelines, a serious case review must be carried out where abuse or neglect of a child is known or suspected; and either the child has died or the child has been seriously harmed "and there is cause for concern as to the way in which the authority, the LSCB partners or other relevant persons have worked together to safeguard the child". The final decision on whether to conduct the SCR rests with each LSCB chair.

Last month's Child T report showed that Haringey did not consider the toddler's plight serious enough to launch a SCR in 2011. Only after an independent evaluation on the child protection investigations was conducted did the LSCB, made up of 34 people from agencies including police, health workers and schools, agree to the SCR. The Child T report was finally published more than three years after his injuries were first officially recorded. The SCR into Child T found multiple failings by doctors, police and social workers for not intervening sooner, and failing to learn from what happened to Peter Connelly, also known as Baby P.

Mr Badman said in 2010 that child services in Haringey had "improved dramatically", and the children's safeguarding board would remain "vigilant" in the management of child protection services.

However, a review into Child T three years later concluded: "It is worrying to find compelling evidence of individual and systemic failures within and between services so soon after [the Baby Peter] case."

Councillors also criticised the regulator Ofsted yesterday. Its inspectors gave Haringey council a "good" rating in the weeks before news of Baby Peter's death emerged, and a "snap two-day inspection" in November 2009 praised the council's child safeguarding efforts – several months after Child T had been treated in hospital and given back to his parents rather than be taken into care.

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: "Local authorities retain a duty to notify Ofsted of serious incidents involving children and we expect them to comply with this responsibility. The last in-depth inspection of the council's safeguarding services took place in January 2011, when we judged these to be adequate with clear room for improvement." This month, Ofsted is beginning a new inspection regime to inspect services for vulnerable children. When Haringey did try to prosecute a family it suspected of child abuse, it was berated in court by a judge this year who accused the authority of illegally escalating its inquiry purely because the mother had the temerity to complain.

Councillor Katherine Reece, the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for Children, said yesterday there is "something very wrong in the system". She said: "Haringey Council appears to have learned nothing from the many tragic failures of child protection in Haringey. A much more radical overhaul of the system of child protection in Haringey is needed. It is not right that the council has said lessons have been learnt and that child protection has been praised by Ofsted, only for yet another tragic case of a child being failed to emerge."

A spokeswoman for Haringey Council said: "We have made a number of improvements to children's services in the past few years, which have been recognised by Ofsted and led to the service being removed from government oversight in April 2012. We would not comment on serious case reviews that may be under way in Haringey."

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