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Shambolic protection system is still failing children, say experts

Telegraph - 14th July 2005

Hundreds of youngsters are still being failed by the child protection system because it is inconsistent, unco-ordinated and understaffed, says a report today from eight independent government inspectorates.

The report, which follows the inquiries into the death of Victoria Climbie and the Soham murders, will be a major embarrassment to ministers who say children's welfare has improved.

According to the report, the sharing of information between the police, the NHS and social services is shambolic.

Councils are sending children in care to live hundreds of miles from their families with little follow-up to see if they have settled into their foster homes or schools, it says.

Children with physical or learning disabilities are not cared for properly. Many staff lack the training to communicate with them adequately or to identify potential abuse.

A number of staff are also not being checked properly. References are not always taken up, and temporary agency staff and foreign workers are often not checked at all.

"Five years after Climbie and almost three years after Soham, and all that soul searching, and basic improvements are not happening," said a source close to the report.

"We cannot prevent every child's death - you can't prevent the rogue nutter slipping through the net - but you can have a procedure that means you have the best system in place to prevent it."

The report says rechecking the credentials of existing staff, especially those in residential schools, with the Criminal Records Bureau was "particularly inconsistent". A quarter of 96 independent schools did not comply with appropriate staff checks.

The inspectorates, which represent bodies such as Ofsted, the police and the prison service, said that since their first report in 2002, there were also "considerable concerns" about the different thresholds applied by social services in child protection.

At the same time, agencies other than social services - such as teachers and doctors - were often unclear as to how to recognise signs of abuse and how to report them.

Police forces had complained that there were delays in social services and NHS staff notifying them of concerns that might affect criminal investigations.

The report adds: "Some services are under considerable pressure because of difficulty in recruiting and retaining suitably qualified and experienced staff, especially in social services in London and the South-East."

Among its 30 recommendations, the report says the immigration service should be involved in safeguarding children. Individuals in each of the agencies should have a clear understanding of the roles and functions of other agencies and skills to undertake their roles.

The report, Safeguarding Children, is being presented today to ministers including Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary.

"The cost to the good citizens for their indifference in public affairs is to be ruled by evil men"

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