Police leaving social workers to face ‘dangerous’ child protection visits alone

The senior inspector of children's services said he had "growing concerns" about police response to child protection

Photo: Maxuser2/Fotolia

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.”

‘Serious weaknesses’

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.

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16 Responses to Police leaving social workers to face ‘dangerous’ child protection visits alone

  1. A Man Called Horse October 18, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    Yes I can say not just in child protection cases. My Adult Care Team also have problems getting Police to attend meeting where the Social Worker could be at risk. The front line cuts to Police Forces are clearly to blame for this state of affairs. There is a real possibility here of a Social worker being injured or worse, really this must be given the highest priority. It is useless having policies and procedures if they cannot be followed due to the cuts to front line Police services. I blame the Tory Government tough on Social workers who they say cannot do their jobs while making the job ever more difficult. Welfare reform has left many vulnerable families on the edge of collapse with ever greater pressure to provide good parenting while having no resources to provide good care. As we have learned today the Troubled Families initiative costing many millions has produced absolutely nothing and was clearly working in an environment of cuts. The Tories will only provide more of the same with Social Workers being used as target practice for their own amusement.

  2. Lucy lou October 18, 2016 at 11:05 pm #

    We have been on our own for years why the sudden concern?

  3. Sharon Shoesmith October 18, 2016 at 11:22 pm #

    At last Ofsted realise the problems with multi-agency work especially with the police. Unpublished reports by the police service itself and by the police inspector in the case of Baby P had exactly these findings but they were not made public such was the clamour to blame the social workers. I expose them in my recent book.

    • Rowena Goodwin October 19, 2016 at 11:46 am #

      Sharron Shoesmith . I find it appalling when care workers who have so badly failed children use every opportunity (such as this one) to try and vindicate themselves. Disgraceful.

      • LongtimeSW October 19, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

        Sorry – I must have missed it – what was the name of the social worker (or any other professional) who murdered Peter Connelly?

        Whilst there were clearly systemic failures in ALL the professional organisations, dancing to the tune of politicians in focusing only on the failings of professionals lets those who had parental responsibility/abused Peter off the hook.

        As a matter of interest are you a/have you been a frontline worker?

      • Spartkett October 19, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

        Wow Rowena you need to read more widely before jumping to inaccurate conclusions. Its just shows your ignorance.

      • Tom J October 20, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

        Oh Rowena, Rowena! Please avoid taking your opinions directly from The Sun Newspaper.

        I recommend you read The Story of Baby P: Setting the Story Straight’ by Ray Jones https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Baby-Setting-record-straight/dp/1447316223

    • Imran Hussain October 19, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

      What job are you in nowadays?

  4. Nell October 19, 2016 at 1:42 pm #

    Rowena Goodwin, Have you read anything about Peter C which has not been written by the (highly selective) Press? I find it appalling when people feel they have a right to try and silence others on the basis of bias and their own personal judgement. It is a matter of record that the police took such a long time to ‘investigate’ abuse of Peter, that further concerns came to light and they had still not been resolved. And before you jump to conclusions – no, I was not part of that workforce. I merely have 33 years experience in the field.

  5. Denise Poole October 19, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    I didn’t read it that Sharon Shoesmith was vindicating poor social work practice, just pointing out that other agencies failed Peter Connelly too. So are multi agency “hubs” beginning to improve things?

    • Nell October 19, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

      My experience is that the hubs have been very good at information sharing to identify those most at risk but usually the CAIT sit outside of the hub and hence we rely on them to make their own judgements. Police in the hub are largely researchers who are great at ‘mapping’ and gathering intelligence but they don’t come out on visits. As CAIT are going through massive cuts too we end up with the same situation of knowing what the problem is but not having the resources to deal with it in the safest way. As Sharon Shoesmith says, when things go wrong, the lens is always on Social Care and there is a reluctance to criticise others or even acknowledge the reality of cuts. Perhaps because he government is not using such cases to discredit an entire profession?

  6. Joanne October 19, 2016 at 7:13 pm #

    Its not headline news that police rarely support with visits or in fact attend child protection conferences but lets be honest government squeezed budgets are making it hard for any multi agency working to be effective.

  7. Rowena Goodwin October 19, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    The responses on here only go to evidence how bad the culture is within child services and the most serious of all of the problems within the service and has been for a long time is the constant denials and cover ups. Lessons to be learnt is the phrase constantly rolled out each time there is a tragedy but the truth is lessons are never learned and never will be whilst there are people working in the system who will cover for their colleagues at any cost.

  8. julie October 19, 2016 at 7:47 pm #

    ‘Working Together’ is the only way WE (all agencies) can keep children safe from harm. The Multi agency safeguarding hubs (MASH) are great for sharing information accross agencies in the moment but agencies need to KEEP talking to each other, ensuring accurate and up to dat information is shared in a timely way as this is the only way to prevent further tragedies like Peter Connolly, Victoria Climbia and all the other innocent children harmed by those supposed to be caring for them!

  9. Graham October 20, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    I repeat my comment on the ‘machete’ article in this issue:

    If a police officer, in the course of their duty, is verbally abused they can arrest the offender, who may be charged with a public order offence. Perhaps fortunately, social workers do not have the power of arrest and we accept a level of verbal abuse others would not. In mental health we can often accept that the person is disturbed and not in their right mind.
    However we should NEVER knowingly put ourselves in a situation where there may be a physical threat without police presence, even if that means doing nothing. To do so would be irresponsible to ourselves and our families and feeds into the ‘macho’ school of social work that I sometimes see expounded in these comments pages.
    If society cannot keep us safe through lack of resources, society cannot and must not act.

  10. Escaped Frontline October 28, 2016 at 8:00 am #

    As a very recent ex CP TM from Kent and East Sussex areas, both the areas I worked I had an excellent working relationship with PPU (Police child protection teams). They were available for visits when required and we respected each others views and roles.