Essex Enquirer Story into Essex Childrens Services
The following story has just been published by the Essex Enquirer. They publish on the net using PDF so I have extracted the text:IT’S USED up more than £90m per year for the last four years and has the power to save children’s lives or ruin families for ever.
It has overseen the adoption of about 450 youngsters since 2002 and investigated the home lives of 8,000 more.
And it employs more than 150 people with the power to investigate anyone’s home life answering only to itself.
But there are calls to make Essex County Council social services more accountable to the public over controversial cases hitting the headlines.
Just 18 people have launched formal complaints against the department since 2004 but the authority will not say how many of these have resulted in disciplinary action taking place.
A spokesman told The Enquirer: “The complaints procedure and disciplinary process are quite separate from one another and, therefore, do not become linked at any stage.”
Following its controversial decision in 2003 to start care proceedings against a Brentwood couple on the grounds of their learning disabilities, social workers in January 2006 were found to have withheld potentially vital information from the court.
The parents – who cannot e named for legal reasons– have not seen their daughter and son since they were taken in 2005.
In 2000 fostering manager Martin Thei committed suicide after being arrested over child porn charges.
In November 2006 social services director Liz Railton wrote to the grandfather of a child assessed for adoption by Thei admitting the department had not investigated all of cases he had been involved with.
In September a mother who had had four of her children taken away for adoption received a letter from social services telling her she was a “good” parent and “no further action” would be taken with regards to her fifth child. Her fourth child had been taken just days before she received the letter.
In October, social services received a threat of legal action from the aunt of four children taken into care in 2005. The woman applied to adopt the youngsters, asking her local authority for help acquiring larger accommodation, as she lived in a three-bedroom house with her partner.
He lawyers argued the authority had a duty of care to the children to try to keep them together if possible. But after a new home was not found, the children were uprooted from her home and taken back into council care.
Her solicitor Nigel Priestley called the situation “utterly, utterly appalling” and told The Enquirer a judge had given permission for the case to go ahead. And in November another woman was contemplating taking social services to court after her son was wrongly placed on the ‘at-risk register’.
Janette Everton, a 49-yearold cleaner from Vange, saw her son Nicky, now 17, investigated by social services, claiming he had been a concern her previous authority (Tower Hamlets) – a claim that council denies.
She lost her husband Graham to cancer in 2004 – around the same time as Nicky was placed on the register.
But still Essex County Council has refused to confirm to Mrs Everton the lad has been removed or apologise for their error. Brentwood Tory MP Eric Pickles heads a parliamentary campaign to make social services more accountable to the public by opening courts during care proceedings, where normal reporting is currently banned
under child protection
legislation. In 2005 he told the House of Commons: “There is almost a process of Chinese whispers, whereby that noble concept [keeping children anonymous] becomes
bastardised into an unwillingness to disclose, to justify, to listen to arguments, or even to see a need to explain decisions...
“Few people who initiate a serious chain of events are likely to admit it when it goes wrong. The temptation is to tailor evidence to fit the complaint...
“If adoption has resulted from fraud or seriously erroneous evidence, we should have a procedure to enable that adoption to be overturned.”
He this week said failure to “open up” family courts was “one of the great disappointments” of 2007.
“Anything so large and powerful [as social services] must be transparent and accountable, without being prurient,” he added.
An ECC spokesman was unable to comment as The Enquirer went to print.