Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Aberdeen child protection slated

Boy sitting alone
Inspectors heavily criticised the city's child protection services

First Minister Alex Salmond has branded a critical report into child protection in Aberdeen "unacceptable".

Children living at risk of abuse or neglect are not being given adequate protection, according to the report.

Inspectors said they were particularly concerned about the numbers of children living in high risk situations with drug-abusing parents.

The council's interim chief executive, Robert Coomber, said he was confident the necessary changes would be made.

In the report, most services were rated weak or unsatisfactory.

Mr Salmond told MSPs that action to tackle the problems was under way and would see a "substantial improvement" in Aberdeen.

Child protection is a vital and extremely important service and all the partners take their responsibilities very seriously
Chief Constable Colin McKerracher
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott told MSPs that the recovery action plan, driven by the inspectors, could take four months to produce, while it would be a year before a follow-up inspection would be carried out.

Mr Scott asked: "How can this possibly be urgent enough when children in Aberdeen face living in high-risk situations with drug-abusing parents without adequate support or protection and services that do not intervene quickly enough in cases involving parental substance abuse and neglect.

"None of this is acceptable."

Mr Salmond said Scotland had an "extraordinarily rigorous" child inspection system, under which 24 inspections had been carried out over the last two years.

He went on: "Some councils, it should be said, have had an exemplary performance. However there have been some councils, and the latest example is Aberdeen, where the performance has been totally and utterly unacceptable."

Mr Coomber said the council's SNP/Lib Dem administration had faced recent challenges and there was clearly still much work to be done "to safeguard children and support families".

'Much regret'

Grampian Police Chief Constable Colin McKerracher, chairman of the North East Scotland Child Protection Committee (NESCPC), said: "We very much regret that, in some areas of critical service delivery, we have not met the accepted standards.

"We are working with the Scottish Government, our partners and other authorities to capture best practice and drive forward improvements to provide the service every child deserves and has a right receive.

I think it's the latest in a series of damning reports about the present administration and it's bound to make everyone in this city worry about the safety of our children
Barney Crockett
Aberdeen Labour councillor

"Child protection is a vital and extremely important service and all the partners take their responsibilities very seriously. We are encouraged that the inspection also recognises a number of strengths and are confident that we can address the identified areas of improvement."

Children's Minister Adam Ingram contacted the city council to ensure urgent action was being taken.

Inspectors visited Aberdeen in April and May. In their report they claimed the approach to joint child protection investigations carried out by the police and social work was inconsistent, and both police and social workers had not always completed the relevant training.

The report claimed effective action was not taken until crisis point had been reached, when there were high levels of risk.

There was then an over-reliance by social work staff on working voluntarily with parents, it said.

Inspectors said appropriate legal measures were not used, even in some of the most serious and high-risk cases.

NHS Grampian and the police were praised for establishing and communicating the values and aims of child protection.

However, the council was criticised for lack of leadership and direction.

'Not enough'

SNP Aberdeen North MSP Brian Adam told BBC Scotland: "Child protection is very important and the issues raised date back to the Spring. There have been considerable changes implemented since then.

"As part of the overall difficulty the council find themselves in, they've had to bring some outside expert support and changes are already in place."

Labour's North East MSP Richard Baker said the council was going to need assistance from the Scottish Government.

He said: "It's not going to be quite enough for ministers just to say we've had this report and the council is going to have to implement it. There's obviously going to be additional support required."

Labour councillor Barney Crockett said: "I think it's the latest in a series of damning reports about the present administration and it's bound to make everyone in this city worry about the safety of our children.

"However, I would like to express confidence in the moves that have come very recently to improve the accountability of social work and other services in the council."

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