City council still failing children at risk of abuse say inspectors

A DAMNING inspection has uncovered serious failings at a Yorkshire council which left scores of vulnerable children at risk of abuse and neglect.

The snap review is deeply embarrassing for Leeds Council as it was carried out on the same day last month as a highly critical serious case review was published into the rape and murder of a toddler in the city.

Council chiefs admitted mistakes in the case of two-year-old Casey Mullen, but claimed major changes had been made since her death in February 2007.

But the unannounced inspection by Ofsted makes similar criticisms of services, prompting calls last night for an investigation.

Experts examined a sample of 23 closed cases and identified seven children who were at "potential risk of serious harm".

The findings were so alarming that within hours staff carried out urgent checks on the welfare of the children. A massive review of 1,550 previous cases was also launched to ensure no others were at risk, leading to further investigations into another 54 cases.

In a letter to council chiefs, Ofsted said: "The response to child protection referrals does not meet statutory guidance and does not ensure that children are adequately safeguarded.

"Child protection strategy discussions with the police and other agencies do not take place in a timely manner or in all relevant circumstances.

"Children are not always seen, even when there are concerns about their safety."

Labour opposition spokesman for children's services Coun Lisa Mulherin demanded an urgent investigation.

"It is absolutely appalling to find that children in this city are not adequately safeguarded," she said. "Vital child protection procedures are out of date, statutory guidance is not being met and children, who should be protected, are being left at potential risk of serious harm.

"Our hard-working front-line staff are clearly not getting essential training and support to ensure children get the protection they need and have every right to expect."

A Victoria Climbie Foundation spokeswoman said the findings confirmed national concerns about serious case reviews which needed nationwide action.

"The problems are not unique to Leeds – they are systemic and across the board," she said.

"There are clearly barriers to implementing reforms. Agencies involved should be addressing these and raising concerns."

The report into Casey Mullen found she might have survived had authorities heeded warning signs about her home life prior to her murder by her uncle. Social services staff failed to properly assess the risk she faced and there was poor liaison with other agencies.

Council chiefs last night insisted all review recommendations had been carried out but admitted there was "still more to do".

Director of children's services Rosemary Archer said: "We recognise and fully accept the seriousness of the inspection's findings.

"For this reason we responded within hours to the concerns of the inspectors and we took effective action to see immediately the children identified as being left at potential risk of serious harm, so we could assess their situation in order to assure their safety.

"We have also put into place additional checks to make sure all reviews, involving new cases where a potential risk of serious harm is identified, meet required standards."

The council's executive member for children's services, Stewart Golton, said: "My job now is to make sure that all of the issues highlighted in the inspection report are dealt with and that we learn the lessons from the actions the inspectors have identified.

"As with many large cities we do face some real challenges in this area, but we have a strong and committed workforce which we will support to do their utmost to protect and look after children both in our care and in their own families."

The Damning conclusions

Report findings include:

Senior managers were aware of problems but not the full extent of "critical flaws" in identifying, assessing and managing risk;

Inconsistencies in information about child protection concerns being recorded and passed on;

Differences in social work practice despite a major reorganisation in May to prevent them;

Checks of vulnerable children lacking effective risk assessments;

Poor record keeping with "significant delays" in completing forms and keeping records up to date.