At-risk children left in danger of abuse

THE aunt of toddler Brandon Muir called last night for senior council officials and social workers to be sacked following the release of the most scathing report into child protection services ever published in Scotland.

The damning report from a government watchdog highlighted the failures of public agencies in Dundee to protect vulnerable children from "significant harm" in the homes of drug addicts and alcoholics.

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

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He was killed by his mother's drug addict boyfriend, Robert Cunningham, who was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Investigators from HM Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) said they had "no confidence" that young people at risk in Dundee were being fully protected.

They also condemned front-line services for their failure to help many youngsters until their plight had reached crisis point.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray called yesterday for a national inquiry into child protection services throughout Scotland, insisting that it was a national issue.

"There is a crisis at the heart of child protection services in parts of Scotland," he said. "This damning report in Dundee quickly follows similar reports in both Aberdeen and Moray.

"We were told after the death of Brandon Muir that changes would be made. I have no confidence that that is happening. This is not a localised issue, but a national one. Doing nothing cannot be an option."

Brandon's aunt, Dayna Garty, told The Scotsman she was "appalled" at the report's conclusions. "Nothing that they can say or do is ever going to bring Brandon back or stop the suffering that they have let these other kids go through. It is absolutely shocking what has happened.

"I am absolutely raging about the findings. They are absolutely appalling. I am just staggered about the failures and weaknesses they found."

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Although the report does not set out to blame individuals, she demanded that Alan Baird, the city council's director of social work, who is also the new chairman of the city's child protection committee, should quit his post.

"If he had any decency, he would resign," she said. "Somebody should be held responsible, and he is the top man."

She went on: "It's not just Brandon they have let down.

"Obviously, Brandon died through it all, but other kids are still at risk and they are doing absolutely nothing until it's too late. Apologies are not worth the paper they are written on."

The report on Dundee follows strong criticism directed against child protection services in both Aberdeen and Moray in earlier inspections by HMIe.

In this case, inspectors examined the workings of the city council, police, NHS Tayside, the Scottish Children's Reporter administration and voluntary and independent groups 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. It will be the subject of a second independent report this summer by Peter Wilson, a former chief constable of Fife.

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.

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.

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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."

The latest figures showed 99 youngsters were on the child protection register in Dundee. In 48 per cent of those cases, drug abuse was a problem in the family. Alcohol addiction was an issue in 33 per cent of cases.

In response to the report, Mr Baird 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.

The NHS, the city council and police also promised to make improvements.

Mr Baird said: "You can never guarantee 100 per cent 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."

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Scotland's children's minister Adam Ingram said: "This report … plainly shows that child protection services in Dundee are simply not good enough and must be urgently improved.

"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."

But he warned: "It is now for those agencies to build on that progress.

"The Scottish Government and HMIe will be closely monitoring the implementation of that action plan to ensure that vulnerable children in Dundee are not let down by the shortcomings identified in today's report.

"For our part, we have made clear that we will not fail to act if child protection lessons nationally are to be learned from Brandon's death. However, it is right that we await the outcome of the independent reviews so that we have a full picture of any action that may be required."

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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THE areas in which HMIE rule the quality indicators are weak:

• Children's needs being met

• Recognising and assessing risks and needs

• Effectiveness of planning to meet needs

• Policies and procedures

• Operational planning

• Vision, values and aims of individual and collective leadership

• Leadership and direction

• Leadership of change and improvement

The agencies criticised:

Dundee City Council

Tayside Police

NHS Tayside

Scottish Children's Reporter administration

District procurator-fiscal

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