Page last updated at 11:27 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 12:27 UK

City child protection criticised

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The report said child protection services were 'unsatisfactory'

Child protection services in Dundee have been severely criticised in a report by inspectors.

The report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) said many youngsters did not get help until the situation was at crisis point.

Publication of the study was brought forward following the death of 23-month-old Brandon Muir.

Brandon was killed by his mother's drug addict boyfriend Robert Cunningham, who was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Cunningham is appealing his culpable homicide conviction.

Child protection services in Dundee were inspected in February and March of this year. The Brandon Muir trial was taking place at that time, although the case was not considered by inspectors.

Brandon Muir
The study's publication was brought forward following Brandon Muir's death

Inspectors examined the workings of the city council, police, NHS Tayside, the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration and voluntary and independent groups.

Child protection services were rated "unsatisfactory", which meant there were major weaknesses, in one area - that of making sure that children were helped in immediate response to concerns.

In particular, there was concern about the help given to children who were exposed to domestic abuse, their parents' drug and alcohol problems and mental ill health.

The HMIe report found that Dundee was "weak" in eight of the 18 quality indicators examined. Services were rated "satisfactory" in six areas and "good" in three.

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

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It added that a range of services did provide effective support to vulnerable families and the sharing of information about children in need of protection worked well.

"However, the immediate response to concerns about children who may be at risk of harm, abuse or neglect did not always lead to a prompt assessment of risk," the report continued.

"Many children did not receive help until their situation had reached crisis levels. There were delays in assessing risks to children, particularly those affected by parental substance misuse and neglect.

"Some children were left in situations of risk for too long without adequate protection or support. Staff did not have clear guidance, policies and procedures to carry out robust assessments of risk and needs."

Latest figures show that 99 youngsters are on the child protection register in Dundee. In 48% of those cases drug abuse was a problem in the family. Alcohol addiction was a issue in 33% of cases.

In response to the report, Alan Baird, director of social work at Dundee City Council, said that four additional social workers, some of them agency staff, had already been employed.

He added that the council was also spending up to £500,000 to make improvements to the service.

Members of Dundee Children and Young Persons Protection Committee
The NHS, council and police promised to make improvements

In addition, staff had examined more than 160 cases over the past few days and they were sure that none of the children were at risk.

There was also going to be a new child protection unit based at Kings Cross Hospital where specialists from the council, police and health service would work together.

Mr Baird, who is also the chairman of the Dundee Children and Young Persons Protection Committee, said: "You can never guarantee 100% safety of our most vulnerable children, no council, or health authority, or police authority can do that.

"We will work tirelessly to ensure the improvements identified by HMIe will be put in place at an early stage.

"Staff from all the agencies involved in child protection are dedicated individuals who work in an extremely challenging environment. The contribution made by these staff must be recognised."

He added that the proliferation of drugs in the city had caused major challenges, but child protection staff were "prepared to meet these challenges" and "determined to get it right".

However, he stated that no-one would be losing their job over the report's findings.

Action plan

The findings of the HMIe report were due to be released in September, but were brought forward following the Brandon Muir case.

Scotland's children's minister, Adam Ingram, called for urgent improvements to local services following the report.

He said: "Clearly, everyone has a responsibility to keep our children and young people safe, including the public.

"However, what we and they expect is that local services are doing all they can to protect the most vulnerable.

"As a government, we have continued to set out that we will not protect local systems if they are failing our children and where this is found to be the case, we will expect robust and rapid action."

Mr Ingram said that, along with the education minister, he had already met with senior representatives of child protection agencies in Dundee to seek assurances that fast and concerted action would be taken in response to the findings.

The agencies involved in child protection have been told by HMIe to prepare an action plan outlining how they will address the problems in the service.

They have been given four months to submit a report to inspectors detailing the progress they have made on the action plan.



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