Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Troubled past of Doncaster Council children's services

Mansion House, Doncaster
Image caption The services director Chris Pratt said they were using the reports as an opportunity to "up our game"

Doncaster Council's children's services department is no stranger to criticism.

Following a number of high profile events in the council's history, there has been serious concern about the authority's role in protecting vulnerable children.

In December 2008, Ofsted was highly critical of the department, rating it as among the worst in the country.

A month later a government-led inquiry was launched after serious case reviews were ordered into the deaths of seven children in the area.

Of the seven deaths examined, two of the children were murdered by their fathers and four were under the age of one at the time of their deaths.

'Particularly concerned'

The findings of three of the reviews were that the cases involved children who were abused or neglected before they died.

In each case it was found social workers had missed opportunities to intervene and one review described the children's services department as chaotic and dangerous.

In March 2009, after the inquiry found children's services provision to be "seriously weak", the government ordered a takeover of the department.

The then Children's Secretary Ed Balls said he was "particularly concerned" about the level of help for children in the town.

Controversy continued to plague the department the following year with the publication of a serious case review into a brutal attack on two boys by two young brothers in Edlington.

The victims were lured away from a park by the brothers who promised they would show them a toad they had found, but instead they were subjected to a horrific assault.

The older boy had a sink dropped on his head, while the younger boy had a sharp stick rammed into his arm and cigarettes pushed into the wound.

Opportunities missed

The brothers, who had moved to Edlington three weeks before the attack to live with foster parents, were later detained indefinitely and told they would be not be released for a minimum of five years.

An executive summary of the serious case review's findings, said the brothers' family had been known to social services for 14 years.

It said nine agencies involved with the family missed 31 opportunities to intervene.

The report said the assault, which happened in April 2009, was not only predictable, but was entirely preventable.

It was not surprising then that an Ofsted inspection in 2010 deemed children's services to once again be performing poorly.

However, the 2011 inspection brought a change in the council's fortunes when inspectors found "significant progress" had been made in children's services.

Ofsted rated it adequate, which meant it was meeting the minimum requirement.

That improvement was to be short-lived with the results of the latest inspection placing children's services once again below standard.

Its director Chris Pratt said the latest inspection showed it had "not yet fully recovered the systematically broken services that we previously had".

He said: "We are using these reports as a major opportunity to up our game and we are determined to rejuvenate our improvement plan to speedily put in place the changes that will provide maximum protection for all our children and young people."

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