A failure of police forces to take child protection duties seriously has left social workers carrying out “potentially dangerous” visits alone, Ofsted’s chief inspector has warned.
Michael Wilshaw wrote to the chief inspector of police raising concerns that Ofsted inspections of children’s services found police were not always working collaboratively with frontline social workers.
“This meant that social workers had to carry out potentially dangerous child protection visits on their own. As a result, they were unable to immediately remove children from danger as it is only the police who have the necessary powers,” he said.
“In other areas, such as Torbay, we found that police did not communicate with social workers before taking action, including instances where children were taken into police protection without any discussion about alternative options.”
More than half of Ofsted’s inspections in the last year identified “serious weaknesses” in contributions made by police to safeguarding children, Wilshaw said. The regulator had growing concerns that police forces were failing take their child protection responsibilities seriously, he added.
Other problems identified in children’s services inspections included a failure by police to share information about domestic abuse cases in a timely way, failures to notify social workers when children went missing and police not attending child protection conferences.
In one example, inspectors found domestic abuse notifications were being sent “in batches” by police, rather than being sent as each case occurred.
“As a result, children were being left without help at a critical time,” Wilshaw said.
Inspectors also found a “disturbing” case where police closed an investigation despite “clear evidence” that children had suffered non-accidental injuries.
“It was only through the intervention of the local authority, prompted by my inspectors, that this case was reopened and further investigated by the police,” Wilshaw said.
A failure to tackle DBS backlogs also meant one local authority had 23 approved in-house carers unavailable to support families.
Wilshaw said: “I fully appreciate that in the current climate, police forces are facing many competing pressures and demands on their limited resources. However, my worry is that if chief constables fail to give this issue sufficient priority, we may see a repeat of the sort of catastrophic failings we saw a few years ago in places like Rotherham, Oxford and elsewhere.”
Thomas Winsor, chief inspector of the constabulary, said inspectors are engaged in a “substantial” body of work in connection with how police and others deal with child abuse.
“We will persist in ensuring that the police understand their very high public duty most efficiently and effectively to use their powers, and discharge their responsibilities, in connection with the protection of children,” he said.