Directors highlight high referral rates

The Association of Directors of Social
Services will use the public inquiry into the death of eight-year
old Victoria Climbie to highlight social services departments’
struggle with a “bombardment” of referrals.

In a statement issued this week, the ADSS said
that alongside funding shortfalls and a recruitment crisis,
departments were having to deal with a 50 per cent rise in the
number of care orders. A report from Wolverhampton Council shows a
250 per cent rise in child abuse investigations over an eight-year

Climbie was killed by her great aunt
Marie-Therese Kouao and boyfriend Carl Manning, who were sentenced
to life for murder earlier this year. Two social workers employed
at Haringey Council face disciplinary action for their handling of
the case once they have given evidence to the inquiry.

Director of the British Association of Social
Workers Ian Johnston said that social workers walked a “tightrope”
when protecting children because they did not want to intervene and
cause alarm to parents when there could be an innocent explanation
for what looked like mistreatment.

“One of the things that I think will come out
of the Victoria Climbie Inquiry will be what the roles of
particular people involved in child protection should be,” Johnston
said. “We need to think about whether it is possible for a social
worker to juggle the roles of carer and investigator.”

Meanwhile, media attention has turned to the
trial at Norwich Crown Court of the father and stepmother of
six-year old Lauren Wright who died in May last year from an
alleged single punch or kick to the stomach that caused a complete
collapse of her digestive system. Both have denied charges of
manslaughter and cruelty.

The court heard that neighbours had informed
Norfolk social services department two months before her death and
said they had often seen Wright with bruises on her body. Norfolk
social services immediately assigned two social workers to the
case, Claire Mann and Charlotte Coates, who had visited the girl at
school and her stepmother at her home.

Coates told the court that the child was
“waif-like”. She was taken to a local GP, who decided some of the
bruises were “non-accidental”. However, her stepmother said the
marks had been caused during a game. Coates described the
stepmother as “very plausible”. An appointment was made for the
girl to be seen by a paedetrician but Mann left her job 10 days
later. Coates went on annual leave in the two weeks leading up to
Wright’s death.

Although Wright had been on the at-risk
register in Hertfordshire when she lived with her birth mother, she
was not on the at-risk register in Norfolk. She moved to Norfolk
after her grandmother successfully applied for a residency order,
then moved in with her father and stepmother after they married in
July 1999.

More than a week before Wright died,
Hertfordshire social worker Fiona Burgon contacted Norfolk social
services department to alert them to the fact that the child looked

Giving evidence, Burgon said that she was told
by a duty social worker at Norfolk social services department that
the allocated worker would make contact with the family. But she
said she was not contacted for more details.

Norfolk Council was unable to comment on the
case until the trial ends in a fortnight.

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