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07 MAR 2009

Haringey Council still failing at risk children

03/07/2009 - The council criticised over the Baby Peter tragedy is still failing to protect all vulnerable children adequately, a report said today.

Haringey Council in north London has made only "limited" progress in tackling areas of weakness identified in a review in November, official inspectors concluded.

Social workers' caseloads remain too high and their decisions in individual child protection cases continue to be "inconsistent and insufficiently robust", the report found.

Baby Peter was 17-months-old and on the at-risk register when he died at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and their lodger in August 2007.

The inspectors - from Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary - were asked by the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, to report on how much progress Haringey had made in the past six months.

They found improvement in some areas - such as tackling a backlog of cases - but noted there were grounds for continued concern about vulnerable children in the borough.

Their report said: "Inspectors and the council identified serious concerns about the safety of some children named in social care files, and the council and its partners accept that currently not all children are adequately safeguarded."

The inspectors raised particular concerns about two areas - the recording and tracking of cases, and the local authority's ability to make further improvements.

Eight out of the 57 case files they looked at were apparently unallocated, raising "serious safeguarding concerns".

The report said improving Haringey's frontline social services had proved "particularly challenging" and much remained to be done.

It noted: "Despite persistent and concerted action, significant shortcomings in staffing and in the capability of some managers and social workers have restricted the rate of progress and children and young people are not yet consistently safeguarded."

The inspectors' other key findings included:

  • A "considerable proportion" of Haringey's social worker posts, including some at senior levels, were still filled by interim and agency staff;

  • A backlog of unallocated child protection cases in the borough was successfully cleared within six weeks;

  • Progress in supporting frontline social workers has improved, and there is now more direct and open communication with senior managers;

  • The Metropolitan Police and the council have improved their systems for managing and monitoring cases, but local NHS trusts have made only limited progress in this area;

  • More than a third of health visitor posts in Haringey are unfilled and a third of social care staff are temporary agency workers.

  • Responding to the report, Mr Balls said he was "concerned" and urged the council to accelerate its progress.

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4's The World At One, he said: "There has been progress and that's clear in the report.

    "I am clear that progress has got to accelerate and it has got to accelerate in the coming months.

    "It's clear from the discussions I've had around this report that if anything we under-estimated the depth of this challenge last December and I said at the time it was a devastating report I received."

    Lynne Featherstone, the local Lib Dem MP in Haringey, said: "What is clear is that problems in child protection and safeguarding were much deeper than anyone thought.

    "Instead of being up to their waist, Haringey Council is clearly still struggling to keep its head above water.

    "There are still serious concerns which cannot be starker than in the report's statement that Haringey's children are not yet consistently safeguarded.

    "The report shows that the council is still failing to safeguard children and young people in Haringey. I want to know when children in Haringey are going to be safe."

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