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Agenda Item No

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Social Care and Health): 20th May 2013

 

Report of the Director of Social Services

 

Update Report: Managing Allegations of Professional Abuse - Compliance with Part IV of the All Wales Child Protection Procedures

 

Purpose of the Report

1.             To assure Scrutiny Committee that the Council complies with the requirements of the All Wales Child Protection Procedures as they relate to managing allegations of professional abuse.

Recommendations

That Scrutiny Committee:

 

1.             Notes the report and the work undertaken to ensure best practice in managing allegations of professional abuse.

2.             Requests the Director of Social Services to provide a report every six months about how allegations of professional abuse have been managed by the Council.

Reason for the Recommendations

1&2.    To ensure that the Council has in place effective arrangements for overseeing this key area of work for safeguarding children.

Background

2.             In August 2011, CSSIW and Estyn published their joint investigation into the handling and management of allegations of professional abuse and the arrangements for safeguarding and protecting children in education services in Pembrokeshire County Council. 

3.             The report raised a number of serious issues concerning the proper checking of staff working with children and the handling of allegations of professional abuse.  The shortcomings were seen as being "longstanding and systemic".  The report concluded that "there has been a lack of oversight by elected members and officers, at the most senior level within the authority, of the management and handling of cases of alleged professional abuse in education services".  While the immediate focus of concerns was in education, youth and community services, it was not limited to them.  Corporate leadership of the authority, the way in which it had delivered its human resources responsibilities and the way that those with corporate leadership and management responsibilities had ensured the protection of children were also found wanting.

4.             The report and its recommendations made explicit the expectations of the inspectorates in a number of areas.

  • The corporate management team (CMT) should share and record important safeguarding concerns and disciplinary issues in education services and schools.
  • This information should be shared with elected members, who have a personal responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
  • Meetings with the Leader should routinely include safeguarding issues, with an agenda and formal minutes.
  • Elected members should challenge officers appropriately regarding safeguarding issues.
  • Safeguarding should be an agenda item at scrutiny and cabinet meetings.
  • Elected members should receive safeguarding training.
  • There should be clear evidence about how the Chief Executive and chief officers exercise their shared corporate responsibility for ensuring children are kept safe.

5.             On 11th September 2011, our CMT considered the implications for this Council.  It was agreed that:

  • the Director of Social Services would provide a six-monthly report to CMT and to the relevant Scrutiny Committee about how allegations of professional abuse have been handled.
  • the Head of Human Resources would provide a six-monthly report to CMT and to the relevant Scrutiny Committee regarding the effectiveness of the Council's systems for making the recruitment and employee checks required to safeguard children.
  • the Director of Learning and Development would provide a six-monthly report to CMT and to the relevant Scrutiny Committee about safeguarding practice in schools and in the services he manages directly.

Relevant Issues and Options

6.             The Vale of Glamorgan Council takes very seriously its responsibility for complying with Part IV of the All Wales Child Protection Procedures 2008, which deals specifically with the handling of professional abuse cases.  The Council is able to demonstrate that allegations involving professionals are pursued rigorously.

7.             In this context, the allegations of abuse may involve all professionals, employees and volunteers working for or accredited by a public, voluntary, private agency, place of worship or faith organisation or independent contractor, whose work brings them into contact with children.  Allegations of abuse may be made against an individual employee in either their private life or their working capacity.

8.             Where these allegations involve Council staff, serious matters that may constitute gross misconduct are supported by suspension of the employee(s), subject to investigation.  In all instances, such issues are determined by a Head of Service or above.  Any allegation of potential abuse brought to the attention of Human Resources is referred immediately to the safeguarding unit in Social Services and advice obtained.  If allegations are made against education and school staff, discussions always take place between the designated officers for safeguarding in Social Services and the Learning and Skills Directorate.  When taking forward action that potentially involves suspending, dismissing or terminating the contract of a Vale employee, the Chief Executive and the Leader (because he holds the Corporate Resources portfolio) are advised at the point of application or shortly after, if they are unavailable.

9.             Appropriate attendance at strategy meetings to agree how investigating agencies will manage the allegation is determined by the designated safeguarding officer in Social Services, who chairs all strategy meetings under Part IV of the All Wales Child Protection Procedures.  Where allegations involve education staff, the Head or Deputy Head will attend the strategy meeting (unless the allegation relates to them), plus the designated safeguarding officer in the Learning and Skills Directorate.  Part IV strategy meetings held in the Vale have included safeguarding link governors, although this tends to be a matter for education staff to determine rather than by direct invitation from the Chair. 

10.        Police representatives attend all strategy meetings.  In every case of professional abuse, the meeting always considers whether a criminal investigation is appropriate.  Social Services and the Police will investigate jointly where appropriate. 

11.        Outcome review meetings are convened as appropriate to review progress and to manage risk until the matters have been properly concluded.  Minutes are taken of all strategy meetings and these are securely distributed to attendees for information and retention on their files. 

12.        The Head of Business Management and Innovation in the Social Services Directorate has oversight of these investigative processes: she confirms that the Council continues to comply with all procedural requirements. 

13.        At the time of the previous six monthly report, three investigations remained ongoing.  Two of these investigations have concluded; one involving investigation by the Police and referral to the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) and the General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) and the other concluding with investigation by the employer.  The third matter remains ongoing and is now subject of ongoing Court proceedings.

14.        Between 1st September 2012 and 31st March 2013, eighteen allegations of professional abuse received by Social Services crossed the threshold for a strategy meeting.  Sixteen have been concluded, and two are subject to ongoing Police investigation and the conclusion of Court proceedings.

15.        Eight of the eighteen allegations involved Vale of Glamorgan Council staff; five in Social Services (foster carers) and three in Learning and Skills.  Two of the eighteen related to self-employed individuals, three to volunteers and one to the public sector. The remaining four concerned staff in independent sector residential care and fostering.

16.        Of the sixteen concluded matters:

  • six of the allegations were retracted;
  • six were investigated by the Police (four jointly with Social Services);
  • four were investigated by Social Services.

17.        Sixteen of the eighteen allegations involved investigation by the employer/voluntary organisation in addition to Social Services and/or Police investigation or as an action agreed by the strategy group.

18.        Each allegation that crosses the threshold for a strategy meeting is finalised and the outcomes agreed.  This involves the strategy group reconvening once Police/Social Services investigations have ended; the group evaluates the information and determines, on the balance of probability, whether there is substance to the allegation.  It will involve also deciding if any further action is required and giving advice to the employer where steps to be taken are within their remit. 

19.        In two of the sixteen concluded matters, individuals have been charged with offences.  In respect of the matters not yet concluded, two individuals are awaiting Court prosecution.  Where disciplinary processes have been instigated, two concluded matters have resulted in the dismissal of staff and one in foster carers being de-registered.  The remainder involved additional training requirements for staff or additions and amendments to policies and procedures.  Referral to relevant regulatory and professional bodies and to the Independent Safeguarding Authority has been undertaken as appropriate.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

20.        There are no financial implications arising directly from this report.

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

21.        There are no sustainability and climate change implications arising directly from this report.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

22.        The Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004 provide the main legislative context for the All Wales Child Protection Procedures and place a duty on designated bodies to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children.

23.        Section 28 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on key people and bodies to make arrangements to ensure that their functions are discharged with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children, and any services provided by those key people and bodies are provided having regard to that need.  The Local Authority is covered by this duty.  Section 175 of the Education Act 2002 places a duty on LEA's and on governing bodies of schools and FE institutions to make arrangements for carrying out their functions with a view to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.  It also requires LEA's and governing bodies to have regard to any guidance issued in drawing up those arrangements.

24.        The Welsh Government Guidance, Safeguarding Children; Working together under the Children Act 2004 has been issued in accordance with the Children Act 2004 and under Section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 provides the working basis for the All Wales Child Protection Procedures.  The All Wales Child Protection Procedures reflect the values and principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the rights of the child.  The Welsh Government developed these values and principles in Children and Young People: Rights to Action 2004, and adopted core aims and outcomes through which it is committed to work with all children and young people.  The key outcome for improving the well-being of children includes the requirement that children live in a safe environment and be protected from harm.  The All Wales Child Protection Procedures take account of various legislation, guidance, research and reports.

Crime and Disorder Implications

25.        Some allegations of abuse against professionals do lead to criminal charges against individuals but there are no crime and disorder implications as a direct result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

26.        There are no Equal Opportunity implications as a direct result of this report.  However, the Pembrokeshire report is critical about the way in which the voice of the child did not figure in investigations of alleged professional abuse and the lack of a rights-based approach to safeguarding children in education.

Corporate/Service Objectives

27.        The programme of safeguarding work set out in this report assists the Council in meeting the following objectives.

·               Corporate objective: To work with the LSCB, the Council’s Corporate Safeguarding Group and schools to deliver our safeguarding responsibilities, obtain the views of children and implement protocols in respect of neglect and child sexual exploitation.

·               Service objective: To ensure that people at particular risk have their wellbeing promoted and are safeguarded from abuse and exploitation through the Council working in co-ordination with other organisations.

Policy Framework and Budget

28.        These are matters for Executive decision.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

29.        There are no implications for individual Wards as a direct result of this report.

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

30.        Social Care and Health

Background Papers

None

Contact Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services

Officers Consulted

Corporate Management Team

Head of Business Management and Innovation, Social Services Directorate

Responsible Officer

Philip Evans, Director of Social Services