Page last updated at 00:04 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Child protection failings 'put children at risk'

upset child
The report said significant improvements were needed

Inspectors have criticised child protection services in Scotland after finding a quarter of councils had failings that put children at risk.

The HMIE report claimed in some areas, staff had put children at greater risk by failing to act quickly enough.

And it warned that "significant improvements" were needed across the country in order to keep children safe.

The Scottish government said the country had the "most robust" inspection regime in the UK.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE) published the report, How Well Do We Protect Scotland's Children?, after inspecting child protection services across Scotland.

The report said planning for meeting the needs of vulnerable children was "weak" or "unsatisfactory" in 10 local authority areas.

Thirteen councils received similar ratings for their assessment of the risks and needs of at-risk children.

As we know, the consequences of such deficiencies can be life-threatening
Graham Donaldson

Almost a quarter of the inspections found "serious weaknesses in aspects of child protection which would increase the risk of harm to children".

However, the report added that in these areas the inspection had acted as "a significant catalyst for change" with prompt action taken afterwards.

Graham Donaldson, HM senior chief inspector, said: "Across Scotland significant improvements are needed in the quality and rigour of assessments of risks and needs.

"Similar improvements are required in planning to keep individual children safe. Along with information-sharing, deficiencies in these areas carry a high degree of risk of failure to protect children.

"As we know, the consequences of such deficiencies can be life-threatening."

The report stressed the importance of all those involved in child protection to share information, which it said had been a contributory factor in cases where children had been seriously injured or died as result of abuse or neglect.

It found that in "a few areas staff did not act quickly enough and children were left in high-risk situations for too long".

Urgent action

There were also delays in a "significant number of areas" in meeting the needs of vulnerable children who were not on the child protection register and those who were neglected.

It said: "Services across Scotland have substantial strengths in protecting children but there are areas of weakness which need to be addressed to improve provision to protect children and meet their needs."

Greater focus has been placed on child protection services following high-profile cases such as that of toddler Brandon Muir, who was killed by his mother's violent boyfriend Robert Cunningham in Dundee in March 2008.

The Scottish government said it was working with those local authorities which had been criticised by the inspectors to ensure urgent action was taken.

Ministers are also revising national child protection guidance, with £1m going to develop a vulnerable persons system.

And a national child protection co-ordinator is being recruited to tackle common difficulties and problems identified in future HMIE reports.

Children's Minister Adam Ingram said the study provided "the clearest and most comprehensive picture" of the performance of children's services across Scotland.

"This government is fully aware of its duty to keep our young people safe from harm and we will do everything we can to ensure safeguards across Scotland are as strong as they can be," he said.

"We already have a rigorous inspection regime, the most robust in the UK, which allows any shortcomings to be identified early and action taken urgently."

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