Doncaster’s interim director of children’s services has pledged to ensure staff can voice concerns after the child protection scandal at the council.
Responding to allegations that social workers feared the sack if they spoke out, Dr Paul Gray said he would do “whatever it takes” to encourage “openness and honesty”.
The department is the focus of two investigations after inspectors last year rated it as “inadequate”. Councillors and staff representatives have blamed a “culture of secrecy” and frequent changes of management for the problems.
Councillors have claimed they became aware of seven serious case reviews – three completed and four in progress – only after a local paper broke the news in December.
Delay in publication
One review on a case from 2004 was not published until January 2008, and was rated inadequate by Ofsted, the council confirmed. The other reviews concerned child deaths in 2006 and 2007.
Dr Gray said any delay in publication was “within the regulations and permission” of the government. He added: “The timescales for publishing serious case review executive summary reports often present difficulties not just for Doncaster, but for many local safeguarding boards due to the process of gathering extensive, thorough and accurate information from all the multi-agency partners involved.”
He confirmed that Doncaster’s local safeguarding children board had been asked to independently analyse the inadequate SCR.
Dr Gray, who was appointed on government recommendation last April, said councillors had been briefed on the serious case reviews before Christmas.
Promise to co-operate
He confirmed that he had held a series of internal staff briefings to help address concerns. “Our staff do an excellent job in often extremely difficult circumstances putting the families of Doncaster first,” Dr Gray said. “I am accessible to all staff who work in this difficult area and want to make clear they have my full backing, support and understanding.”
He said it was “imperative” that the councils’ own internal investigation, which began on 14 January, would find out why there had been difficulties in delivering child safety.
Dr Gray also said the council would co-operate fully with the separate review ordered by children’s minister Beverley Hughes at the start of the year, and that it would consider progress made since the last inspection.
“Nothing is more important than ensuring the protection of vulnerable children and young people across the borough,” he said. “We are the only council to have assessed ourselves as inadequate which is why we are conducting our own internal and independent investigation to find out why we have experienced such difficulties in our delivery of child safety and, crucially, how and what lessons can be learned.”