A report into the response to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham has recommended a further probe in a case that showed apparent evidence of “significant culpability by at least two social care professionals”.
The review of serious cases identified by the 2014 Jay report, published this week, investigated whether there was evidence of council employees during the period of 1997-2013 being guilty of “misconduct, professional misconduct or capability issues that resulted in the ordeal of individual children and young people being prolonged or made worse”.
It was one of six reports published in response to the 2014 Jay report, which estimated that 1,400 girls had been subject to rape, trafficking and sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013. The council has been subject to widespread government intervention since 2014.
The review author, Jean Imray, concluded the majority of cases she reviewed would be judged ‘inadequate’ “when measured against basic professional practice standards”.
However, she found pockets of ‘adequate’ and ‘good’ practice on the part of individuals.
“There is, however, also evidence of extremely poor practice and in one case in particular what I consider to have been negligent work,” the report said. The two professionals identified as being culpable for the poor practice no longer worked at the council, the report added.
She recommended that the case, referred to as Child E, be passed to the local safeguarding children board to consider if it should be investigated as a serious case.
“This is so that the [safeguarding board] can determine what, if any, further action is required to address historic concerns that may continue to impact on Child E or other children in the family. This will include the need to investigate historic allegations that may not have been responded to in the past,” the report said.
Imray said “various and substantial organisational failings” reflected in Jay’s report were present in all of the cases she reviewed, and therefore would make it “impossible” to mount credible HR investigations into frontline workers during the period in question.
Another report into the conduct of senior leaders in the council throughout the 16-year period also identified staff without “the right tools, resources or support” to deal with child sexual exploitation effectively.
“It required professionals with different qualifications and expertise to set aside differences in their professional disciplines and collaboratively work together – to move away from the ‘silo’ mentality,” the report said.
It found no evidence to suggest senior leaders “turned a blind eye” to exploitation in Rotherham, but commented there was not much evidence of “’inquiring minds’ or a purposive approach when evidence of what was happening did come to their attention”.
It concluded there were not any grounds for the council to take retrospective action against former senior employees, many of whom are now retired, but did recommend the report was sent to the employers of two former leaders still in employment.
It stressed it did not consider these two to be uniquely culpable for the council’s response to emerging evidence of exploitation.
One of those, Jacqueline Wilson, is director of transformation at Doncaster children’s trust and was head of children and family services in Rotherham between 2000 and 2004. The report praised a “focused response” by her to tackle and raise exploitation issues, even if she did not do it in a “holistic” way by working outside of her service responsibilities.
“As one of few senior women in the council at the time Ms Wilson offered detailed accounts and written evidence of examples of the misogyny and bullying behaviour towards women by some members and officers and her attempts at procuring a change in established behaviours,” the report said.
“She does not seem to have been supported by her superiors in those laudable efforts and inevitably to some extent Ms Wilson too lost heart as a result.”
An independent investigation in 2015 cleared Wilson of any culpability for the failings identified in Rotherham.
A Doncaster Children’s Services Trust spokesperson said: “We have received the report on Wednesday, 6 September and are considering its content. Doncaster Children’s Services Trust takes any concerns around child sexual exploitation very seriously. For that reason, we apply rigorous and robust due diligence to all professional appointments.
“With regard to implied or specific allegations against a member of staff related to the issues in Rotherham 15 years ago, Doncaster Council and the Trust commissioned an independent investigation which did not find any specific evidence to support the previous allegations. We are clear that during the employee’s time with us we have had no issues with her performance or conduct,” the spokesperson said.
The other employee was Ged Fitzgerald, a former chief executive of Rotherham council who now holds the same position in Liverpool. He is currently on bail following an arrest for allegations relating to his time in charge of Lancashire council.
The report said Rotherham council was not the same institution in terms of performance and culture as it was during the time of the failings.
The review authors said they recognised “substantial progress” across the council, and “especially in children’s services”.
Responding to the reports, the council’s government-appointed commissioners said the complexity of the issues and long period of time since the events may give rise to “understandable concern” that accountability for failure had not been sufficiently attributed to individuals.
“The investigation reports tell a story of an organisation struggling to deal with the complex issues of CSE, but in our view and crucially, in a context where, in the main, successive chief executives and directors of children’s services were seemingly unable to provide the leadership and tenacity needed to secure the safety and wellbeing of the children of Rotherham,” the commissioners said.
“The council has now made progress across the organisation and in particular in children’s social care to ensure that improvements are put in place and that the children and young people of Rotherham are kept safe.”
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