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Child protection has 'weaknesses'
Weaknesses remain in child protection services at a council which was heavily criticised after two boys tortured and sexually humiliated two other youngsters, according to a new report.
Lord Carlile of Berriew was asked to look at services at Doncaster Council by Education Secretary Michael Gove following the publication of the full serious case review into the attack on an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old by two brothers, aged 10 and 11, in Edlington, South Yorkshire, in 2009.
His report, which is newly published, coincides with a highly critical inspection report by Ofsted on the town's child protection services. Lord Carlile said: "I found that Doncaster today is not faced with the shambolic situation of early 2009.
"However, there remain weaknesses, which have been highlighted by the consequences of a severely critical report following an Ofsted inspection in October 2012 of the arrangements in Doncaster for the protection of children."
The council has admitted services have not improved enough since the events of 2009, saying "features of that systematic failure remain today".
Doncaster Council's director of the children and young people's service Chris Pratt said: "It is clear that we have not yet fully recovered the systematically broken services that we previously had, and as Ofsted says, features of that systematic failure remain today. The reports do acknowledge progress has been made - and Lord Carlile's reporting states Doncaster is not faced with the shambolic situation of early 2009 - but I'm acutely aware our progress hasn't yet come far enough.
"As a result of better child protection work, we are now actually working with an overwhelming number of children - including three times as many more child protection investigations compared to two years ago. Together with huge difficulties in attracting experienced social work professionals to work in Doncaster, this has put tremendous pressure on our services and meant our journey of recovery hasn't coped as well as we had planned."
The Ofsted report found that all areas of Doncaster's child protection services were inadequate. The report said Doncaster could not be confident that all children known to the children and young people's services were safe. It said: "In too many cases, professional practice was poor, management oversight ineffective and risk to children not identified or progressed."
The British Association of Social Workers said staff in Doncaster had been subjected to "draconian conditions and within a bullying culture". It also said social workers across England were facing "excessive bureaucracy, deep cuts to support staff and rising caseloads".
Acting chief executive Bridget Robb said: "No assessment of the standards of social work practice in Doncaster is complete without an understanding that social workers in the local authority have been working under draconian conditions and within a bullying culture. Staff there were recently issued with a 'signed or be sacked' ultimatum to accept cuts to their pay and conditions, so it is no surprise that Doncaster has problems recruiting and retaining staff, and has subsequently been downgraded by Ofsted."