Ombudsmen urges councils to examine procedure knowledge for cross-border incidents

Investigation into a cross-border child protection case finds two local authorities failed to implement a child-centred approach to support an abuse victim and recommends that all councils ensure that staff are fully aware of procedural responsibilities.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is urging councils to re-enforce staff knowledge of proper procedures for cross-border child protection cases after a suicidal teenager was left without appropriate support when she reported serious sexual abuse.

Specific warnings from the report centre around a lack of quality outreach and support of the girl and her mother, apparent inactivity from either council at the point of the initial referral, and an absence of communication between the two councils for nearly two years surrounding the case.

The investigation found that, in June 2018, Kent County Council received a police referral regarding an allegation of historic serious sexual abuse from the mother of the girl in question.

The girl, who lived in Kent, had reported that she had been sexually abused in Croydon. Kent County Council advised the police to refer the case to Croydon Council. The investigation found that there was no contact between Kent County Council and girl or her family to assess any need for additional support.

Two months later, the same incident was referred to Kent County Council by the police again. Kent County Council made contact with the family and offered support, which the family felt was “not appropriate” according to the report.

The social worker assigned to the case ostensibly did not speak to the girl directly before completing her assessment, despite remaining a requirement of the statutory guidance.

The two councils were found to have not communicated for nearly two years regarding the case, during which time the girl made three suicide attempts and went missing for a period.

The Ombudsman found “an uncoordinated response” that resulted in the two councils not sharing information, not clearly identifying potential risk, as well as inadequate victim care, and concluded that both councils had not utilised a child-centred approach to the case.

The report found that Croydon Council had not put into place a strategy discussion following the initial referral, whilst Kent did not carry out an assessment of the girl’s needs within the proper timeline.

There were also issues surrounding the level of support given to the girl’s mother, which the report found did not reflect standards.

The LGSCO has urged councils to ensure that staff remain fully aware of responsibilities when working on cross-border child protection case.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King reiterated that the main focus of any case of this type should be those “desperately in need of significant support.”

“This is a key example of the very real impact on vulnerable children when councils do not fully understand their responsibilities,” said Mr King.

“We have issued this report to give other councils the opportunity to examine their own child protection strategies, and identify any learning they may benefit from to ensure vulnerable children in their areas are supported properly.”

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