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.
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.
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.