Page last updated at 08:18 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 09:18 UK

Child abuse reviews 'inadequate'

boy crying
Ofsted monitors child protection as well as education

More than a third of official inquiries into the most serious cases of child abuse in England are inadequate, the official watchdog Ofsted has warned.

In its evaluation of 173 "serious case reviews" from April 2008 to March 2009, Ofsted found 34% had weaknesses.

It identified weak management and a lack of joint working across agencies.

Serious case reviews are inquiries into the death or serious injury of a child where abuse or neglect is known or suspected to be a factor.

These reviews are carried out by bodies known as local safeguarding children's boards, which oversee the work of various agencies involved in child welfare, including social services, education, health services and the police.

Ofsted automatically carries out its own review of these inquiries.

Improvements

In total, Ofsted found 23% of the serious case reviews were good and 43% were adequate.

But inspectors said 34% had weaknesses and judged them to be inadequate.

They found a number of shortcomings including weak management, a lack of joint agency working, a failure to focus on the needs of the child, insufficient staff expertise and poor identification of ethnic or social issues.

"Even more needs to be done to ensure the review process improves the way children are protected from harm across the country," the report said.

Chief inspector Christine Gilbert said inspectors had identified "encouraging signs of improvement".

"However, much more work needs to be done to address the remaining weaknesses and to ensure that lessons lead to improved outcomes for children and young people.

"It is of great concern that over a third of reviews are still judged inadequate.

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"We all have a duty to protect children from harm. It is crucial that those involved in child protection use the serious case review process to deliver change and improvement."

Joanna Nicolas, an independent social worker and child protection trainer, said the report showed things were not improving.

"We've actually increased the number of children who we've identified as being at risk of significant harm, but more of those children are dying," she said.

She said failings stemmed from relevant services being "crippled", partly as a result of "high vacancy rates" and heavy work loads.

"It isn't just social care, it's a lot of the other agencies as well that now have much more responsibility in terms of child protection, in terms of children in need," said the social worker.

Child protection has been under the spotlight following the failure of social workers in the London borough of Haringey to prevent the abuse and death of 17-month-old Baby Peter in 2007.

England's Children's Minister Delyth Morgan said: "Serious Case Reviews are critically important to learning lessons and driving improvements in front line practice in safeguarding children.

"We are already consulting on ways of strengthening further the quality of Serious Case Reviews and this must be a key priority for all Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

"Through our commitment to deliver on Lord Laming's recommendations, we will work with local partners to embed good practice and take forward the learning from today's report."



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