Louise Casey, the director-general for troubled families at the Communities Department, is the author of a new report which has been published today and which looks specifically at Rotherham Council’s failings to protect vulnerable children and adults from child sexual abuse.
The revelations echo Professor Jay’s findings in her report, which she published last year, but what is most startling is that the failings highlighted in both these reports speak to a wider sector, and encompass the entire child welfare system. These problems are not unique to the council – they live and breathe inside every department working on child welfare.
In her report, Louise Casey writes that when she arrived in Rotherham she found a council in denial. They refused to believe they had made mistakes. They were paranoid – the media were out to get them. They were arrogant – we’ve won awards for our work, they said, we are beyond reproach. And perhaps worst of all, Miss Casey writes, the Council were adamant child sexual abuse was not their problem.
Except it was. And it is, both in law and policy. So how do we have entire councils running without carrying out duties legally within their remit, and ignoring allegations which touch upon the very core of their administration?
That is a big question, which we suspect stems from the top down; government at the highest level which still operates under a colonial mandate filtering down to local departments and government agencies. But that is not our immediate concern in writing this post.
The failings mentioned – protectionism, poor training, questionable priorities and practice, even criminal conduct, all carried out by the Council, are not endemic to that local authority.
Protectionism rears its ugly head inside the family justice system every day. Previous reports on multi disciplinary services failing to work together bolster Miss Casey’s report, and demonstrate how, so many years on, our government departments still do not sufficiently trust one another to share data or collaborate. So what hope do vulnerable children being sexually abused have in a world where even grown ups won’t share their toys?
Poor training too, is a bug bear. Miss Casey’s report highlights also the lack of training and understanding of the complex crime of child abuse – so why are we still sending out social workers to tackle problems for which they are not, in the main, sufficiently trained to deal with?
Priorities too, have become self-serving mandates which local authorities and other jobbing professionals manipulate regularly, either to dispense quickly with cases or secure their own interests. Miss Casey reports that when youth services came to the Council in Rotherham to try to tell them about the abuse in their town, the council eventually chose to shut these services down altogether. She also tells us that the council refused to believe that child sexual abuse was a mounting problem for them, and that if it was happening in their town, is was a lot less prevalent than the public were being led to believe.
The ‘It’s not happening in my sector’ state of mind has bled through the entire child welfare system. Talk to many lawyers, social workers and judges and they will say the same thing.
“We don’t have a problem inside the system – these difficult cases make up only a small part of a much bigger, well oiled and perfectly run machine.”
Except that those badly managed cases which make up perhaps 10% of the cases going through the system are a barometer for how well the system copes with difficult and complex phenomenons related to child welfare. They are incredibly time consuming too, and set the bar for everyone else. If a system cannot process the very issues and problems it is designed to address, then, surely, it is not functioning properly.
It is not just Rotherham council that is not fit for purpose. The entire child welfare system is in need of disrupting. We need better training, better resources, a greater respect for this kind of work – after all, it requires a deep knowledge of many different disciplines and keen and penetrating minds to apply it – and above all, a cultural shift in the way we value children.
Until then, we will continue to see reports like Miss Casey’s, drip feeding failings which extend well beyond council walls and police stations.