Children at risk better protected, system not perfect

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CHILDREN at risk of abuse and neglect are being better protected by social services but many continue to be let down by the system, a new report into the quality of care has found.

The Care Inspectorate review of child protection also revealed major disparities in the quality of care being offered across Scotland’s 32 councils, with neighbouring local authorities often offering very different services.

However, the overall picture, it found, has improved since the last detailed inspection four years earlier.

The report comes after numerous controversial cases over recent years where social work services have been criticised for failing to intervene earlier to protect at-risk children.

The survey by the independent Care Inspectorate examined services across Scotland between 2009 and 2012, which focus on the 2,700 youngsters on the child protection register whose welfare is particularly at risk.

They found a number of improvements compared to the previous inspection, with better leadership and more action to protect particularly vulnerable groups of children.

Care Inspectorate chief executive Annette Bruton said: “No system can guarantee that tragedy will never strike, or exploitation will never occur, but there is encouraging news from our report.”

However, the report went on to note significant areas of continuing concern. It said there continued to be gaps in care for those children whose cases did not quite merit them being placed on the register.

Equally, there was too little contact with children who had been removed from the register. In nearly a third of areas, contact had been discontinued too quickly, children were not frequently seen by social workers and their circumstances often “deteriorated quite markedly” before remedies were found.

There was significant disparity between different councils. Perth and Kinross was deemed the best performer, being ranked as “very good” or “excellent” across six different indicators. That contrasted with neighbouring Stirling, which was ranked as “weak” across four of the six areas.

Receiving the report, the minister for children and young people, Aileen Campbell, said: “I am pleased to see from this report on the second round of joint inspections that significant progress has been made in child protection. However, we 
cannot be complacent and progress must continue to be made on this important matter.”

Ms Bruton added: “Child protection is a difficult and sensitive area but it is everybody’s business to make sure that our children are safe.”

The report also found a shortage of specialists to help children recover from trauma and abuse.

Recent cases which have raised concern over the cover provided by social work services include that involving Paisley toddler Declan Hainey.

The child’s mummified body was found in his cot in March 2010 – eight months after he was last seen alive. A report found things “could and should have been done differently”. Declan’s mother, former drug addict Kimberley Hainey, recently had her conviction over his death quashed.