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Pembrokeshire County Council failed to protect children, says report

A west Wales council has been criticised by two watchdogs for failing to adequately protect children.

Pembrokeshire County Council failed to protect the children in its care, according to a report published today following an investigation by the Chief Inspector Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) and Estyn.

Their investigation revealed “longstanding and systemic” shortcomings with the authority’s arrangements for safeguarding youngsters.

Twenty-five cases of allegations of professional abuse in schools and education services in Pembrokeshire from April 2007 to March 2011 have been identified by the local authority.

Among the more serious findings were that children who voiced allegations against professionals often went unheard, and in three cases police and Socials Services’ advice to suspend school staff members was ignored.

In one case a school provided false information, stating a staff member had resigned when they’d actually been dismissed for sexual misconduct.

The report also found Criminal Records Bureau checks and references were not effectively and consistently screened.

Other incidents were found not to be properly recorded or dealt with.

The report says: “In three of these cases there was potentially an immediate risk of harm to children.”

It later concludes: “There has been a lack of oversight by elected members and officers, at the most senior level within the authority, of the management and handling of cases of alleged professional abuse in education services.”

Pembrokeshire County Council and Dyfed Powys Police have now been asked to review all 25 cases to ensure that all appropriate actions have been taken, and to report their findings to the inspectorates.

A spokesperson on behalf of CSSIW and Estyn said: “The safeguarding and protection of children and young people must be paramount and that message is clear.

“This has been a complex investigation and we have worked closely with our partner agencies to establish the facts. The joint reports sets out our findings which have been shared with the local authority. Some of the failures which we have evidenced in our joint report were unknown to the local authority until drawn to their attention by the joint inspectorates.

“CSSIW and Estyn will continue to work together with other inspectorates, including HIW, HMI Constabulary, the Welsh Government, and other agencies.

“Together we will continue to seek assurances from Pembrokeshire County Council about immediate safeguarding and child protection issues where needed and will take appropriate action as necessary to deal with these.

“A separate joint review with other inspectorates of interagency arrangements to safeguard and protect children in Pembrokeshire is being undertaken.

“The inspectorates will undertake further monitoring and inspection work in Pembrokeshire to determine what progress the authority is making in dealing with these issues and will report future findings to Welsh Government Ministers.

Responding to the report, the Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council Councillor John Davies said: “I want to make it clear at the outset that the safeguarding of our children and young people is an absolute priority for everyone at Pembrokeshire County Council – members and officers alike.

“It is now and it always has been.

“So it is with a sense of deep disappointment and dismay that we have received these reports.

“We are not hiding from the matters raised in these reports and I want to assure parents that we are working tirelessly to ensure children are as safe as it is possible to make them.”

Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services, called the failings identified in the report “wholly unacceptable”, adding: “I expect urgent, strong and decisive action by Pembrokeshire County Council to rectify them.”

She added that Pembrokeshire County Council needs “robust support” and has asked them for a “clear, challenging and deliverable plan of action” by September 9.

An external team to oversee the council’s plan of action has already been appointed by the Welsh Government. David Hopkins and Phil Robson, former Directors of Education and Social Services, have agreed to join the team.

But the Minister added that “ensuring the immediate safety of children cannot wait until September 9”, saying she will use the powers available to her to ensure staff are properly vetted.

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