Devastating report reveals Baby P failings
The head of children’s services in the London borough where Baby P died after months of persistent injury and neglect was dismissed from her post yesterday as the government responded to a damning report into the council’s failings.
On a day which saw two senior figures on Haringey council resign within hours of the report hitting ministers’ desks, Ed Balls, the children’s secretary, removed Sharon Shoesmith from control of the borough’s children’s department. He described the findings of the review as “devastating”.
The report, commissioned at the conclusion of the Old Bailey trial into the toddler’s death, found nine fundamental defects, which continue to put children in danger despite the intense public scrutiny since Baby P was killed in August last year. They included failure to identify children and young people at risk of immediate harm, lack of coordination between agencies and poor sharing of information.
George Meehan, the council’s leader, and Liz Santry, its cabinet member for children and young people, resigned within hours of reading the conclusions. It is understood that Shoesmith offered to follow suit and was astonished to see Balls announce her immediate dismissal on live television in the early afternoon. It also emerged that five other council employees have been suspended over their handling of the case.
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Balls said he was using powers under the 1996 Education Act to remove Shoesmith and install John Coughlin, director of children’s services in Hampshire, in her place. “I have powers to intervene and remove someone who is not fit for office,” he told journalists.
He added: “Most people would look at this report – look at the clear evidence of management failures – and say that this kind of failure should not be rewarded with compensation or payoffs. That’s a matter for Haringey.” The council acknowledged that Balls had the authority to remove Shoesmith from her role as director of children services, but the status of her employment contract with Haringey was still a matter for the council to resolve.
A spokesman said: “She has been suspended pending disciplinary proceedings, with two others: Cecilia Hitchen, deputy director, children and families; and Clive Preece, head of children in need and safeguarding services.” Three other staff – Maria Ward, the social worker, Sylvia Henry, senior social worker and Gillie Christou, the team manager – had been removed from child protection duties pending further investigation.”
The council would be required to report monthly to the government on progress in reforming the children’s department, with a further review by Ofsted by the end of June. Balls said he would then decide whether “further sanction” was needed, including a possible compulsory contracting out of children’s services to another provider.
Balls said the report by Ofsted, the Healthcare Commission and chief inspector of constabulary was “devastating and damning”. On nearly every page, the document was littered with words such as “inadequate”, “unacceptable”, “poor” and “unreliable”.
The failings included:
? Failure to identify children and young people at immediate risk of harm and to act on evidence;
? Agencies working in isolation from one another and without effective coordination;
? Poor gathering, recording and sharing of information;
? Inconsistent quality of frontline procedures and insufficient evidence of supervision by senior management;
? Inconsistent management oversight of the assistant director of children’s services by the director of children’s services and the chief executive;
? Insufficient challenge by the local Safeguarding Children Board to council members and frontline staff;
? Poor child protection plans.
Balls ordered the review after public outcry over the death of the 17-month-old boy, who suffered more than 50 injuries at the hands of his abusive mother, 27, her boyfriend, 32, and their lodger, Jason Owen, 36, despite 60 contacts with the authorities over eight months. They will be sentenced next year.
Balls said he was particularly worried by a finding of the inspectors that child protection staff failed to talk directly to children. He added: “Where children were not seen alone, it worries me greatly that the inspectors found little evidence of management follow-up to ensure children suspected of being abused were properly heard and able to speak up without fear.”
Balls urged investigations into 38 other abuse cases to be reopened after Ofsted criticised the quality of previous reviews. They include three cases in Cornwall, three in Northamptonshire and deaths and serious injuries to children in Bristol, Derbyshire and Hampshire.
Ofsted will also carry out annual unannounced inspections in England.
There will be a fresh independent review of the Baby P case, with an executive summary published in March. But the full report will remain confidential and Balls refused to order a full public inquiry.
He accepted advice from Lord Laming, head of the inquiry into the death of the abuse victim Victoria Climbi in 2000, who said a public inquiry would set back progress on child protection made in many parts of England and divert effort from the actions needed to keep children safe in Haringey.
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