Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Thursday, 12 February 2009

Moray child protection condemned

Child and mother
Inspectors said they were not confident children received the help needed

Children at risk in Moray do not have adequate protection, according to a government report.

Inspectors said they were not confident children at risk received the help and support they needed.

SNP members of Moray Council said the report painted an "appalling picture" of child protection in the area.

Moray Council chief executive Alastair Keddie promised action, saying: "We view the findings of this report with great concern."

He added: "We regret that the service our partnership delivers to children has not met the standards expected.

"Child protection is an extremely important issue for all agencies in Moray.

"We have made significant changes in our operations since the initial verbal report from inspectors in September, we have been working hard together ever since to ensure better information-sharing and assessments of children at risk."

Moray Council and NHS Grampian came in for particular criticism in the report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education.

It found assessment of risks and needs was "unsatisfactory", information-sharing and recording was "unsatisfactory" and planning to meet needs, operational planning, leadership, policies and procedures were all "weak".

The report states: "Inspectors were not confident that all children at risk of harm, abuse or neglect and in need of protection were receiving the help and support they needed.

"The immediate response to concerns did not always lead to rigorous assessment of risk and the use of appropriate legal measures."

We have already put in place closer working arrangements between agencies, and will continue to make positive changes to deliver excellence in the protection of our young people
Chief Constable Colin McKerracher

It continues: "There were delays and deficiencies in the identification and investigation of suspected child abuse. Planning for children did not always bring about a reduction of risk within acceptable timescales."

A joint statement from Cosla, the Association of Directors and Social Work and Moray Council said: "Everyone who works in local government - at political and official levels, in social work or any of the other professions - fully appreciates the need to ensure that vulnerable children and young people get the support they need and that they are protected from harm and neglect.

"The HMIE report on child protection services on the Moray Council area poses significant and important challenges for the council and its partners. The council and its partners are already taking urgent and comprehensive action to address these challenges."

This is an absolutely appalling report and I am deeply concerned
Angus Robertson
Moray MP

Chief Constable Colin McKerracher, chair of the North East Scotland Child Protection Committee (NESCPC), which oversees child protection in the area, said: "We welcome this inspection and recognise the weaknesses it identifies.

"It has made a vital contribution to the NESCPC and helps us identify the areas where we can make improvements to child protection services.

"We have already put in place closer working arrangements between agencies, and will continue to make positive changes to deliver excellence in the protection of our young people."

Moray SNP MP Angus Robertson said: "This is an absolutely appalling report and I am deeply concerned at the strategic management and leadership of child protection services in Moray.

"A report like this is bound to be morale sapping for the many dedicated social workers in Moray who have been completely undermined by the systematic and strategic failures uncovered by the inspection.

"The issue of child protection is of major concern to the public and the SNP will be seeking answers from the Moray Council as to how this frightening situation has occurred."

'No excuses'

Minister for Children Adam Ingram branded the shortcomings unacceptable.

He said: "It is clear to me that the leadership in Moray, particularly in the council, now have to demonstrate a real commitment to delivering this action plan.

"They need to demonstrate their ability to improve their performance. There must be no excuses and no passing of the buck by those responsible."

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

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

Government inspectors have since praised the efforts of the fostering and adoption services.

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