Haringey Council criticised for failures to combat child neglect

Fresh questions have been raised about the ability of Haringey Council to combat child neglect.

A highly critical report into the handling of the case of “Family Z’ has revealed that social workers were so focused on child protection cases, where the risk to the child is deemed to be immediate, they did not act swiftly enough in a case of chronic neglect.

It paints a worrying picture of over-stretched and under-confident social workers who despite coming into repeated contact with the family, failed to take the children into care early enough.

The report, undertaken by Haringey’s Safeguarding Children Board, states: “The creeping and cumulative nature of chronic neglect makes it difficult to detect if you are not really looking for it.”

Investigators found that “less importance was given at the time to non-Child Protection cases – which is possibly still the case.”

Adding: “When the children in this family were taken off the Child Protection Register at the end of 2006 and the step down plan was to carry on working with them as ‘children in need’ this was ultimately meaningless.”

Cllr Katherine Reece, Haringey Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for children’s services, said she believed these failures continue to dog the department.

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She said: “The lack of joined up practice was a problem in the case of Baby P, there again we saw the failure to adopt a multi agency approach.

“The culture of unhappiness amongst social workers and the difficulties with management is not going away. At a time when money is still being thrown at children’s services, this is worrying.

“These children were left with their parents for five months when they should have been in care. That is terrible neglect by the council.”

The report’s findings chime with criticisms voiced by charities and social work experts who have warned excessive red tape and central government targets hamper social workers.

Professor Eileen Munroe, a social policy expert at the London School of Economics, last year spearheaded a government review which called for greater freedom and more training for social workers.

In her report she said: “Helping children is a human process. When the bureaucratic aspects of work become too dominant, the heart of the work is lost.”

Outgoing children’s chief Cllr Lorna Reith insists great strides have been taken to improve Haringey children’s services since the case of Family Z, in 2009.

The department is weaning itself off agency staff, she said, and a new multi-agency safeguarding hub has brought health workers, police, social workers and probation all under one roof.

But she acknowledges the council “needs to do more in early intervention”.

She said: “The situation of our children’s services was such that we had to concentrate on the sharp end. We know that while we are doing that the real answer is to intervene with families far earlier, but we have got to get the critical but right.”