Child protection loopholes 'must close'

GOVERNMENT inspectors have not found “sufficient evidence” to allay their concerns at the way Suffolk County Council is co-operating with outside agencies to protect vulnerable children.

By Graham Dines

GOVERNMENT inspectors have not found “sufficient evidence” to allay their concerns at the way Suffolk County Council is co-operating with outside agencies to protect vulnerable children.

Last year, the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) told the county council to improve “communication at an operational and practice level”.

A follow-up visit in July has still reported some shortcomings. And with concern throughout the country at how social care departments liaise with outside agencies in the light of the failure to spot the systematic abuse of Victoria Climbie, the inspectors are demanding loopholes be closed.


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Inspectors found difficulties 12 months ago in Suffolk's joint working with partner agencies, even though council staff had “expressed shock” because they believed co-operation was “a positive aspect of their practice”.

In a report to Suffolk councillors today, the SSI's lead inspector Stephen Roe says staff now recognise “that the specific sources of tension we identified were legitimate concerns for agency partners, and efforts had been made to address these.”

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But Mr Roe says the follow-up inspection had not found “sufficient evidence to confirm that outcomes for individual children had noticeably improved as a result of better joint working.”

However, he commends the council team in Lowestoft for insisting that a named person is identified at an early stage to deal with each child's case.

The original inspection also found that assessment framework had been “poorly implemented in Suffolk, since we found little evidence of its systematic use on case files.”

Mr Roe will tell councillors today: “Commendably, there has been a dramatic change since we last visited. A structured approach to assessment was evident on all the case files we examined during the follow-up inspection, and there was consistency in the format used for recording.”

Tony Lewis, the council's portfolio holder for children and young people, defended Suffolk's social care department. “We have made enormous progress in a short space of time. The inspectors have no significant concerns regarding our services, including measures we put in place after the Victoria Climbie tragedy.

“We are disappointed that the inspectors still found we have some work to improve. In 2000- 2001 there were 507 children on the child protection register, the current position is 360 children, which is partly due to better processes including keeping more children with the families.

“We are on target to meet the budget this year and that's tremendously important. The latest financial reports are very positive indeed,” said Mr Lewis.

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