Rotherham social workers discredited information about child sexual exploitation

Louise Casey's report reveals an 'unhealthy' culture of bullying in Rotherham council where social care is a 'cinderella service'

Louise Casey authored the report into Rotherham. Photo: Rex

Social workers in Rotherham discredited information from youth workers about children at risk of abuse, amid an “unhealthy” culture of bullying, sexism and suppression, Louise Casey’s damning inquiry has revealed.

Rotherham will now be placed under central government control after Casey’s 154-page report concluded the council was incapable of tackling its current shortcomings without a sustained government intervention.

Published today, the inspection of Rotherham council found social workers held a “professional jealousy” of youth services, while children’s social care lacked understanding of child sexual exploitation (CSE). As a result, practitioners made errors in law and practice.

The highly critical report has prompted council leader Paul Lakin to resign, admitting he should have done more to prevent the problems.

Cinderella service

Both police and social care were guilty of discrediting the value of the relationships youth workers at Risky Business (the council’s former CSE service) had with victims, which led to an undervaluing of the girls, their experience and the information they were providing.

“The information that Risky Business had was deemed ‘not good enough’ by social care and police,” the report stated. A former senior police officer told Casey’s inspectors: “The social care line was that these were non-social workers who didn’t know what they were doing.”

Systems to record and manage cases were also found to be poor, while decisions regarding individual children were not rigorously or systematically checked and too much professional social work practice was inadequate.

Casey’s report explained that children’s social care is regarded as a “cinderella service” within the council, which has “not had the focus it requires from political and corporate leaders”. Inertia was discovered at all levels of children’s social care within the council.

Rigid model for tackling CSE

As a result, the report stated, it is “hard to see” how the council can fulfil its duties to protect children in need of support. “Bluntly, senior staff in children’s social care know what is wrong, but are either incapable of putting it right or lack the will or capacity to do so.”

Social care’s approach to CSE was also heavily criticised, for not understanding the input of other agencies to support proper safeguarding.

“The consequence of adopting a rigid social care model is two-fold,” the report stated. It continued: “Firstly, too many children at risk of CSE become clients of social care (over-whelming the statutory service). Secondly and as a consequence of over-stretched resources, the nature of help on offer is not proactive in identifying and meeting their needs.”

Additionally, social workers did not understand the evidence required for successful prosecutions, while police did not understand social work assessments or thresholds. The operational team for CSE is therefore multi-agency “in name only”, the report found.

Unhealthy culture

Committed, hardworking and dedicated social workers in Rotherham were acknowledged by the report. Inspectors pointed out that it could not be easy for them to go into work every day and try to do a good job, “amid a stream of criticism”.

However, an unhealthy culture of bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ cemented the failures of the council.

The local authority is also in denial about its problems, Casey found. “They denied that there had been a problem, or if there had been, that it was big as was said. If there was a problem they certainly were not told – it was someone else’s job.”

Rotherham’s cabinet have now resigned, while communities secretary Eric Pickles, who commissioned the report, has outlined proposals for commissioners to take over the running of all functions of the council including children’s and adult’s social care.

More from Community Care

5 Responses to Rotherham social workers discredited information about child sexual exploitation

  1. Philip Measures February 5, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

    I read with utter horror and dismay to the point of almost unbelief Louise Casey’s report – it beggers belief that some employees and Councillors acted as they did. Many actions were clearly criminal in nature, unlawful and amounted to gross negligence.

    When I was a social work manager (in a number of different Authorities) I didn’t allow matters of importance to get by me – I used to sit in with Teams even as a Service Manager and insisted that anything of concern was properly followed up. My Supervisions of staff when I was a Team Manager were detailed and thorough when I took over – I never ceased to be horrified at the poor quality of many formal Supervision records with little evidence that there was ever any real revisiting of original concerns, actions taken and assessment of progress (or otherwise).

    The HCPC must ensure that they call for all details of concerns to be made available to it – not to await referrals from Rotherham. Where individual social workers have failed then the roles of their managers must also be carefully examined alongside those of Independent Reviewing Officers.

    The right laws and Procedures (statutory Guidance) are all in place – it is the failure to properly act on them that is at fault.

    Rotherham needs to demonstrate that it has provided adequate and relevant on-going training for its staff and be able to demonstrate that relevant staff have ALL received relevant Supervision, training and monitoring (including annual reviews).

    The continued use of ‘gagging clauses’ and Compromise Agreements are iniquitous – they have no place in what ought to be a morally and ethically blameless profession.

    Equally, Rotherham needs to look at where in-coming senior managers have come from and why they left their previous Posts. Too many such managers are moving around the country escaping the repercussions of some of their previous bad practices.

    Providing good quality social work is difficult but far from impossible. Everyone needs to be fully accountable and to simply never forget what their job is and where their greatest loyalties and responsibilities lie – to those vulnerable children and families that the social welfare system is there to protect.

    The pernicious and ever-increasing macho and feared managerialism that we now see has to be ended – managers need to be able to support their staff positively and accept challenge as positive because they too are social workers who should share the same values and ethics.

    Philip J Measures
    Retired (and now unregistered) Social Worker.
    Philip.measures@gmail.com

  2. John Ramsey February 6, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Always, at the back of one’s mind reading this, is the question of the role of politicians and the Murdoch press. Casey seems to have written a balanced and objective report and there is no direct evidence that it is otherwise . However, an elected local authority has been replaced by unelected officials.
    What we now know about the events following the death of Peter Connolly, including the role of the Sun and the “independent” inspection carried out by Ofsted leads me to be suspicious; even if Casey’s report is as much “on the level” as it appears at first sight, I can’t help reflecting on the extent to which press and politicians have poisoned the well by their previous actions in bad faith.

  3. Jim Greer February 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Very disappointed to see reference to the ‘Murdoch press’. The Times has been running articles in this appalling scandal for the last two years. The reporter who covered the issue is a specialist in child exploitation who has received an Orwell and Paul Foot award for journalism. If it had not been for the ‘Murdoch press’ nobody would have known about this scandal. We now understand that two Labour councillors and a (now deceased) police officer are alleged to be implicated in this terrible affair. There is also evidence that social workers and workers from voluntary sector were dissuaded from speaking out about abuse because of fears about damaging community cohesion if the ethnicity of perpetrators would talked about. In fact community cohesion has been damaged precisely because the abuse was not tackled and many people in the decent majority of the Pakistani heritage community are justifiably angry.
    We have just had a statement issued by The College of Social Work about Rotherham which makes no reference at all to how the social work profession should go forward in dealing with abuse courageously in the face of policital pressure and misplaced fears about cultural sensitivity.
    I think we should be addressing this issues as a profession rather than shooting the messenger.

  4. dfeb5e98-18e8-4af2-a19b-e4a5ed45483c February 11, 2015 at 6:18 pm #

    I noted the comments about the HCPC, again they have been pretty quiet on the Rotherham case, although to be fair who can they blame or hold to account, the SW’s who raised the alarm and were told to go away or the managers and councillors who probably don’t or wont be accountable to them.
    From what I can see of the HCPC they are a total waste of time and money, another toothless quango to have a go at those at the bottom of the food chain

  5. Philip Measures February 13, 2015 at 8:13 am #

    ‘dfeb5e98-18e8-4af2-a19b-e4a5ed45483c’ – Re. the HCPC see excellent article from December 2014:

    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/12/09/hcpc-fit-practise/