Pembrokeshire child abuse row: Leader makes promise

The leader of Pembrokeshire council, Jamie Adams, says the authority is making 'good progress' in improving child protection procedures

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Pembrokeshire council's leader says the authority has "building blocks" in place to deal with claims of child abuse.

Jamie Adams was responding to a letter from Welsh government ministers who had "grave concerns" over the council's performance.

It follows controversy over alleged child protection failings.

Last September, ministers sent a panel of experts into the council after problems were highlighted.

There are claims of children being locked in padded "time out" rooms and of one's hands being tied by a teacher.

The council has had a final warning from the Welsh government.

Inquiries by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales and schools inspectors Estyn had warned about failures.

Last week, it emerged new information about the controversy surrounding child abuse allegations was passed to the police.

Ministers have given the council a final warning after raising questions about how many schools have used the "time out" rooms.

Culture

After a meeting with Mr Adams last Wednesday, the Welsh government said serious questions remained about events and the council's response.

Start Quote

I am confident that, with your continued support, we will get to where we need to be”

End Quote Jamie Adams Pembrokeshire council leader

Mr Adams wrote a nine-page letter to Education Minister Leighton Andrews, and Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services, Gwenda Thomas in response to their letter.

He said he had seen "a change in the authority's culture", strengthening of many of the safeguarding policies and a change in approach from senior officers.

He responded to specific criticisms levelled at the authority and set out in detail the progress the council has made.

Among the improvements he lists are:

  • Delivery and completion of an action plan which was prepared at request of ministers
  • Strengthening human resources procedures and tightening of checking and vetting procedures
  • Establishing a council scrutiny committee to deal with safeguarding issues and to be chaired by an opposition member
  • Improvements to the council's whistle-blowing policy
  • Additional capacity to investigate allegations
  • Improved performance of the pupil referral unit in Neyland

In concluding the letter, Mr Adams said: "We have not yet reached our final destination, but I trust that the evidence provided in this letter demonstrates that we are making good progress.

"I am confident that, with your continued support, we will get to where we need to be.

"I acknowledge the concerns outlined in your letter. I have given you my personal assurance that I am prepared to demonstrate strong leadership and take tough decisions where it is necessary to do so.

"I give you my further commitment that this authority will do everything that could be expected of it to keep children in Pembrokeshire safe."

The ministers' letter to Mr Adams highlighted an incident in March when it is claimed that Scott Lee, a pupil at Meads Infant School in Milford Haven, had his hands tied by a teacher.

The Welsh government letter also detailed cases from 2009 in which children are said to have been locked in a small padded room with no natural light or ventilation at the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Neyland. The unit caters for children with behavioural problems and with special educational needs.

The ministerial board also learned of similar rooms at a primary school in Pembroke Dock.

Ministers say they have heard about at least five rooms at schools in the county in which children were locked "and there may be several more".

Mr Adams says in his letter: "I stand by the assurance given to the board that children are not being locked in padded rooms in any school in Pembrokeshire.

"As I understand it, the concerns raised recently relate to historic practice in Pembroke Dock Community School."

He said schools in county were written to in 2009, prohibiting the practice.

The Welsh government said ministers have raised serious concerns about the situation in Pembrokeshire.

"We have now received their response to our letter which we are considering," he said.

"The prime and overarching concern of the Welsh government throughout all of this remains the safeguarding of children in Pembrokeshire. This is absolutely paramount."

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