Former director calls for more accountability from professionals

Les McEwan

All professionals who work with children should take more personal
responsibility for their actions, according to the former director
of social work in Edinburgh who resigned last week,
writes David Callaghan.

Les McEwan resigned after facing criticism from the press and
councillors in the city for his department’s handling of a
high profile child death case.

Whilst stressing he was not referring to the social workers
involved in the case, he said he hoped his resignation would set an
example for others to show a similar level of accountability.

His decision follows publication of an inquiry report into the
death of Caleb Ness, who was killed by his father at the age of 11
weeks old two years ago. Alexander Ness was given an 11-year
sentence after admitting the culpable homicide of his son.

An inquiry report commissioned by Edinburgh and Lothians child
protection committee on McEwan’s recommendation, found that
the boy should never have been left in the care of his parents, and
described the agencies involved as “flawed at almost every

Two Edinburgh social workers have been suspended, and two taken
off child protection duties. Lothian and Borders
police have ordered a review of their child protection services
after being criticised in the inquiry report.

McEwan, who had worked in Edinburgh’s social work
department for 36 years but felt “compelled” to resign,
said: “There is a high, high standard of responsibility and
accountability shown by all the professionals, but that sense has
to be more finely attuned.”

Under new requirements for social work staff to register with
the Scottish Social Services Council from April this year, McEwan
said “everyone has to reflect on their attitude to their

He said he “searched his heart”, and was not
prepared to let frontline workers be “hung out to

Once he had lost the confidence of councillors and the
Conservative group had called for his resignation, he said his
position was untenable.

McEwan, who is nearly 58 and was two years away from being able
to retire, said: “ I would rather not have ended my career
this way, but I have and that’s the reality.”

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