Community Care’s deputy news editor Maria Ahmed invited Dr Paul Gray, Doncaster’s interim director of children’s services, to respond to a series of allegations related to the child protection scandal at the council. Here are CC’s questions with Dr Gray’s responses.
Can you offer any explanation as to why it took the council more than 3 years to publish the serious case review into the death of Baby BO5 in October 2004? This was not published until January 2008.
PG: Doncaster safeguarding children board is a statutory multi-agency group with a responsibility for monitoring how local services are planned and delivered in order to ensure Doncaster’s children and young people are looked after properly, kept safe and protected from harm. The timescales for publishing serious case review executive summary reports often present difficulties for not just Doncaster, but many local safeguarding boards across the country due to the process of gathering extensive, thorough and accurate information from all of the multi-agency partners involved.
We work closely with government and Ofsted to ensure reports are published as soon as possible, and any delay in publication is within the regulations and permission of government office. The primary responsibility of Doncaster safeguarding children board is the safety and welfare of all children across the borough, including the welfare of siblings of deceased children.
Doncaster safeguarding children board has been requested by government to conduct an independent analysis of the already published Baby B05 executive summary review and the board is fully compliant of this request.
Can you respond to councillors’ claims that they knew little of child protection concerns and the SCRS until the Doncaster Free Press local newspaper broke the story last December? As I understand it, it is general practice for the full council to be informed of any child deaths and SCRs. This did not seem to happen until the press coverage. I also understand that the three completed SCRs were not placed on the council website until late December 2008/January 2009.
PG: We operate as openly and honestly as we can and an internal briefing for members was held before Christmas, followed by the subsequent extraordinary public full council meeting last week.
These claims above have fed other claims of a “culture of secrecy” regarding child protection concerns – leading some people to say there has been a cover-up. What would your response be? What needs to change so people do not feel this?
PG: Nothing is more important than ensuring the protection of vulnerable children and young people across the borough. 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.
There have been claims that staff are afraid to speak out. You have said in an interview there is an “open door” policy – some staff say they don’t accept this – some claim there has been a “culture of bullying” – what would your response be to them?
PG: I cannot speak on behalf of the past but I do know I will do whatever it takes to ensure staff feel they can voice any issues or concerns as openly and honestly as possible. We have recently initiated a series of internal staff briefing sessions to encourage this. Our staff do an excellent job in often extremely difficult circumstances putting the families of Doncaster first. 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.
You have said that staff in children’s services are up to full complement – how many of these are agency workers and interim managers?
PG: If we look back to last summer, approximately a third of our total children’s social services workforce represented agency staff and as a result of a number of recruitment campaigns we are now virtually up to strength. However, I would like to make it clear I am confident the agency staff we employ are qualified and excellent, along with many that benefit from senior expertise and experience that is invaluable for this service area.
I have heard reports that there are plans to disband the out-of-hours children’s service – can you tell me anything about this and what it could mean?
PG: This is completely not true. Far from disbanding, we are actually working to strengthen this system and progressing with proposals to develop one single service operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
What are your hopes for the three-week internal review of children’s services and the Department for Children, Schools and Families review?
PG: It is imperative for us to conduct our own internal independent investigation to find out why we have experienced such difficulties in our delivery of child safety. The council has also offered full co-operation with the report called for by government children’s minister, Beverley Hughes, that will take account of improvement progress made over the last year – the period beyond that covered by the annual performance assessment Ofsted report.