Pembrokeshire Council has been heavily criticised by Welsh inspectors for failing to respond to abuse allegations involving staff including headteachers, teachers, learning support assistants, youth workers and administrative support staff.
In three of the cases managers decided not to suspend an accused member of staff despite safeguarding concerns from police and social workers. “The duty to safeguard children has been outweighed by the consideration of the previous good conduct of staff. Alleged and proven harmful behaviour and abuse were not effectively confronted or risks assessed and managed”, the joint report from Estyn, the inspectorate on education and training, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales stated.
Of 25 cases of alleged professional abuse between 2007 and 2011, 35% involved children with additional learning needs. The allegations included the case of former primary school head teacher, David Thorley, who was convicted and jailed in May 2009 of nine sex assaults against children. They also included a number of cases involving the inappropriate restraint of young people.
They also criticised the council and the education authority for not telling parents about allegations or the outcomes reached. “This lack of transparency raises questions as to whether the protection of the child is always given priority over the reputation of the authority”.
Inspectors found that almost all cases were undertaken as single agency investigations despite, in some cases, a decision made to conduct them as joint agency investigations. It also highlighted a lack of record-keeping and inter-agency challenge.
There was a lack of awareness of abuse indicators amongst education staff and a few cases that should have been dealt with as child protection investigations were instead dealt with as “staff development”. “There has been a lack of rigour in the child protection process in some of the cases examined, including decisions taken outside the formal strategy meetings,” inspectors said.
“Pembrokeshire operates a culture of trust amongst its staff which is commendable. However, to be effective, it must be transparent. It is appropriate that staff are trusted to get on with their work, but managers need to monitor that agreed decisions and actions are completed and that the quality of the work is good enough. Because of failures to do this, senior managers and elected members do not have a good enough grasp of what is happening, and they rely too much on what they are told,” the report concluded.
Councillor Huw George, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People, Learning and Welsh Language, said the investigation had come about because of Thorley’s conviction which had in fact illustrated the difficulties of safeguarding.
“In this case all the available safeguards were in place and the teacher was highly respected across the entire Welsh education community. Indeed, he had also been appointed by Estyn as one of their Registered Inspectors. There was nothing to suggest to any of us that there was a potential that children could be harmed in this case.”
He also pointed out that of the 25 cases investigated by the watchdog only in three had it been decided there was “potentially” a risk of harm to children.
“But we have taken the comments by Estyn and the CSSIW to heart.”
The Council has now established a Safeguarding Accountability and Improvement Board which will be chaired by leader of the council, John Davies.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails