Pembrokeshire told to compensate mother after bungled abuse inquiry

    Pembrokeshire Council has been ordered to pay £5,000 to a
    mother of four for failing to follow procedures when conducting
    child protection inquiries.

    In a damning report released this week, ombudsman Adam Peat
    concludes that social services’ handling of the case in 2002
    revealed “repeated, prolonged and serious maladministration”.

    He added that the council’s record in dealing with the woman and
    her children, who cannot be named, had been “lamentable”.

    Social workers’ decision to follow up an allegation of physical
    abuse by the children’s father without first undertaking adequate
    preliminary inquiries resulted in “hamfisted” interviews with her
    and the children, Peat says.

    In his report, Peat highlights that the woman was visited in her
    shop before a child protection conference had been held to discuss
    the allegation. She was accused, in front of one of her children,
    of hitting another of them with a wooden spoon.

    The insistence of social workers on picking up the children from
    school, in full view of teachers, other pupils and parents, was
    “grossly insensitive and indiscreet”. And an attempt to illegally
    transport six people in a five-seater car was incompetence, Peat
    adds.

    A child protection conference was eventually held 23 days after
    the father made the allegation. It was then that the children were
    formally placed on the child protection register.

    However, an investigating officer concludes that many of the
    professionals had become frustrated with the family’s attitude by
    this time, and emphasises that this was not grounds for registering
    the children’s names.
    The mother complained about the way she had been treated by social
    workers and the conduct of the child protection conference.

    She claims her family was ostracised and she was forced to close
    her shop because neighbours thought she was a child abuser and
    withdrew their custom.

    Peat has ordered the council to carry out a formal review into
    its handling of the case by June to ensure it has learned
    lessons.

    Council leader John Davies said the authority accepted the
    ombudsman’s report.

    He added: “Although we do have some reservations, it is clear that
    there were errors in procedure which should not have occurred.”
    Depression is rife but unnoticed among older people, driving many
    of them into long-term care, according to Help the Aged.
    A report by the charity finds that depression affects one in eight
    pensioners living in the community and is a significant factor in
    admission to care homes, where it affects two in five
    residents.
    Despite its prevalence, GPs are failing to diagnose the condition,
    with depressive symptoms seen as a normal part of ageing.
    Pensioners who are diagnosed often receive inadequate or no
    treatment, with few being referred to specialist mental health
    services.
    The report finds that older people often become depressed because
    of bereavement, illness or disability, leading to isolation and an
    inability to do everyday tasks.
    Alongside more training for professionals in diagnosing the
    condition, it calls for a reinvestment in low-level social care,
    such as home help services, to support older people handle everyday
    stresses.
    It claims the provision of such services has declined significantly
    in the past 10 years.
    The report also calls for action to help pensioners develop their
    social lives through clubs and leisure services.
    <25CF> Depression and Older People from www.helptheaged.org
    The Child Poverty Action Group says a plan to replace backdated
    income support for refugees with a system of loans may breach the
    Geneva Convention on Refugees.
    The charity says the convention stipulates that a country must
    treat refugees in the same way it does its own nationals in
    relation to social security benefits. Under the present system
    asylum seekers are not entitled to income support but, if they are
    granted refugee status, it is backdated to when they arrived.
    Kate Green, the charity’s chief executive, said the government’s
    plan, which will be piloted in one area, was “grossly unfair” and
    would increase debt and poverty.
    A Home Office spokesperson said the government was confident it was
    not breaching the convention. The Commission for Social Care
    Inspection has joined local authorities in urging the government to
    put on hold its reforms to social services complaints
    procedures.
    Board members last week urged a six-month delay to the changes due
    to come into force in April. With final guidance expected in
    February, councils will be given little time to implement the
    changes.
    Authorities say the proposal to reduce the number of stages from
    three to two will be time-consuming and costly. Many say the
    reforms are an unnecessary upheaval to an already effective
    system.
    Consultations from the Department of Health and Department for
    Education and Skills are due to be completed this month.
    In a draft letter to the DoH seen by Community Care, commission
    chair Denise Platt said: “[The reduction in the number of stages]
    is widely seen as a distortion of existing good practice, with no
    purpose other than that of achieving superficial consistency with
    the NHS.”
    The commission is also waiting for the government to confirm that
    its independent review role in the complaints process will be fully
    funded.
    Platt’s letter says: “The commission’s ability to deliver the
    proposalsÉ is fundamentally dependent upon a resolution of the
    negotiations between the commission and the DoH concerning the full
    cost funding of the new service.”

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