Saturday, 31 May 2008

Social workers’ failings ‘put children in divorce cases at risk of abuse’

Full Story:

Children in divorce and separation cases are being left at risk of abuse because of serious failings by social workers dealing with their cases, according to a watchdog. A report seen by The Times discloses how a backlog of cases is leaving children vulnerable, particularly in family breakdowns involving domestic violence and abuse. An Ofsted inspection of the service, set up to to ensure that childrens views were represented in family courts, uncovered a catalogue of failings in the South East region. It found a waiting list of 150 cases, delays of six months for some families, inadequate assessments of the impact of domestic violence in most cases and a failure to refer cases to local authorities where there were concerns for the childs welfare. A separate report identified serious failings in another part of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass) in the East Midlands region in February. The latest inspection will fuel fears that similar findings will be uncovered during inspections of the remaining eight regions in England and Wales. The inspection of Cafcass operations in Kent, Surrey and Sussex found that in some cases, to determine which parent a child should live with, the records of work were illegible. In one, the clearest account of a meeting was written not by a social worker but by a mother who sent her own record to Cafcass officials. The criticisms focus on the services work in private law cases, in which parents who have separated cannot agree on where the child should live or about arrangements for contacting and meeting children. The waiting list in the South East included some delays of six months, no prioritisation, and no analysis of the risks involved in delayed cases. As a result, Cafcass cannot demonstrate that children on the waiting list are not left at risk, the report said. Inspectors also could not report that safeguards for childrens safety or welfare were adequate. This is a serious deficit. Whilst allegations of domestic violence were a common feature in cases, its impact on children was assessed adequately in only a minority of cases, the report said. In one case, it found that there had been no assessment of the risk to a six-year-old child who had witnessed domestic violence. Nor had there been any attempt to follow up information about child protection with the local council, the report said. The report also criticised recommendations to the courts based on optimism or which had not been agreed with the parties involved.

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