Children are being left at risk in Dundee because of significant child protection failings, inspectors concluded today, 15 months after a toddler was killed in the area in a high-profile case.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education found major weaknesses in the identification of children who needed protection and that staff did not respond quickly enough to children who were at risk of significant harm, including because of a lack of social workers.
Inspectors found that children referred to the social work access team were too often referred back to staff who had raised initial concerns for monitoring.
Brandon Muir case
Ministers instructed the inspectorate to bring forward the report on child protection services in Dundee in March, following the conviction of Robert Cunningham for the culpable homicide of 23-month-old Brandon Muir, Cunningham’s partner’s son, in March 2008.
Today’s report did not focus on his case specifically. There are two other reviews taking place into child protection issues arising from Brandon’s killing: a significant case review – the Scottish equivalent of a serious case review – and an independent review commissioned by Dundee children and young persons protection committee.
The inspectorate said there were significant delays in protecting children at risk of neglect or emotional abuse, particularly those affected by substance misuse.
Quality of assessments ‘very variable’
Assessments of risks and needs often took place after a child’s circumstances had deteriorated and their quality was very variable. While many were detailed and clearly identified risks to children, “many others” lacked relevant detail and sufficient analysis of risk”.
More positively, police officers and social workers worked well together to plan and carry out joint investigations of child abuse, and most were suitably trained in joint investigative interviewing of children.
However, police officers, school nurses and staff working with adults did not routinely attend child protection case conferences, while decisions were sometimes taken without representation from police, health or education.
Care planning weak
Overall care planning was weak, as were policies and procedures to protect children. Some policies were out of date and not always consistent with inter-agency child protection guidelines.
While individual services had a vision and aims for keeping children safe, chief officers across agencies had not created a shared vision for child protection.
However, inspectors found staff development was good, with training in child protection available to a wide range of staff.
Inspectors called on chief officers across the council, health, police and other agencies to improve their immediate response to child protection concerns, joint planning and the assessment of risks and needs, including in relation to parental substance misuse.
Responding to the report, Scottish minister for children and early years, Andy Ingram, said agencies in Dundee had made a “solid start” in developing an action plan to improve child protection and respond to the inspection.
He added: “They are aware that the Scottish government and HMiE will be closely monitoring the implementation of that action plan to ensure that vulnerable children in Dundee are not let dowy by the shortcomings identified in today’s report.”