‘Real cause for public concern’: High Court judge slams Haringey Council over child protection failings

Haringey Council. Picture: Ken Mears

Haringey Council. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

A High Court judge has criticised a “litany of failure” at Haringey Council in regard to the way social workers handled a case involving a disabled boy.

In a written ruling, Mr Justice Hayden of the Family Division of the High Court wrote social services staff made “some fundamental errors” and “fell considerably short” of their obligations to safeguard and protect the boy, and another child in his family.

He said a social work team “disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection” and that the nature, extent and persistence of those failings “can only give real cause for public concern”.

Lawyers representing the council said social services managers had a “real concern” about what had happened and a “determination that there should be a full investigation”.

They said there were “lessons to be learned”.

Mr Justice Hayden’s rulings followed private hearings.

He said the children at the centre of the case could not be identified.

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Mr Justice Hayden said: “I do not think that I have ever had to criticise a local authority to the extent that I have found it necessary to do in this case.

“This social work team, within this local authority, disregarded fundamental principles of safeguarding and child protection. The nature and extent of the failings, as well as their persistence, can only give real cause for public concern.”

The judge said the boy’s parents were separated, and at one stage the boy’s mother became involved in a relationship with a convicted child sex offender.

He said the council only learned of this from an anonymous phone call, and there was then an “alarming” failure to initially appreciate the threat posed by this man.

The judge said lawyers representing Haringey had asserted that the deficiencies identified in the social work team involved were “not representative” of council practice and children’s services more generally.

“I profoundly hope that is correct,” said the judge.

“This team simply lost sight of the most basic of child protection and safeguarding procedures.”

Mr Justice Hayden also said that when the boy’s father had become “angry” with the council, social workers had “declined to speak with the man” and that this contributed to “fundamental” safeguarding errors.

Mr Justice Hayden outlined a list of “failings” in his ruling.

“The social work failures are, in isolation, concerning,” he said.

“Cumulatively, they are profoundly troubling. They signal, to my mind, a need for significant retraining.”

Cllr Zena Brabazon, Haringey’s children and families chief, said: “The most important thing for me to note is that the children remain safe, and their wellbeing is our primary focus.

“The assessment and management of the risks to the children was completely unacceptable and fell far below the council’s usual social work practice. We recognise wholeheartedly that this judgment highlights areas where we can and must improve – many steps have already been taken and significant progress has been made.

“We firmly believe that this judgment is not a reflection of our wider practice in children’s social care. Since the Ofsted inspection of 2018 we have made significant changes, and Haringey has been commended by Ofsted and its partners for its work strengthening and improving its children’s services.

“We have been carrying out our own review into what can be done better, and this will continue, along with a new, independent assessment. We have brought in additional resource and training, and are accessing expertise from some of the best services in the country. We have made real progress, but where there are still improvements to be made, we will continue to make them.

“It is our duty to protect our young people. We did not do well enough in this case, and that is being rectified now, and going forward.”