‘Deficient’ practice let foster carers’ abuse go unchecked

Wakefield social workers failed to prevent the sexual abuse of children by two gay foster carers because they did not want to be seen as homophobic, an independent inquiry has found.

Potential indicators of abuse were “inadequately investigated, understood or acted upon” in the cases of Ian Wathey and Craig Faunch, who were jailed in June for sexual offences against four children.

The men, who fostered 18 children between 2003 and 2005, were seen as “trophy carers” and that led to “slack arrangements” over placements, the inquiry found.

The fostering panel that approved the men and the practice of some social workers were “deficient” and supervision by middle managers was “inadequate”. Practitioners “seemed simply ignorant of the knowledge-base about the way paedophiles behave”, the inquiry found.

One manager told the inquiry that “by virtue of their sexuality [Wathey and Faunch] had a ‘badge’ that made them less questionable”.

The men were the first gay couple in Wakefield who had been open about their sexuality when they applied to become foster carers and this had presented a “challenge” to staff, the inquiry led by social work consultant Brian Parrott found.

After one of several inappropriate photographs of the children under the men’s care emerged in June 2004, one social worker said: “My blood went cold…[but] I never for one moment thought they were paeodophiles.”

At the time of the case, Wakefield’s children’s services were blighted by a “powerful negative culture” and high levels of sickness and low morale, though the inquiry found “significant changes” had taken place in the department since 2005.

The inquiry recommended the issues raised by the Wakefield case should inform the practice of other councils, fostering agencies, social work training organisations and national bodies.

Among its 41 recommendations, it called for improved training to make social workers “capable and confident” in dealing with
issues of sexuality, and for organisations to “allow open exploration of issues without encouraging fear, anxiety or prejudice”.

The report is due to be discussed at a meeting of Wakefield Council today.

Related articles
Council inquiry into jailed foster carers
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Essential information on child protection

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Maria Ahmed

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