Bristol council response to foster girl concerns criticised

Bristol City Council did not act quickly enough to rehouse a girl after being informed that her foster carer was suspected of downloading child abuse images, a review has found.

The council's child protection services did not remove the four-year-old until two weeks after social workers were told the man was being investigated.

A case review found the department "lacked urgency" and was "distracted".

The council said all the report's recommendations were being implemented.

The internal review was carried out by a manager in the safeguarding unit, which is separate from the operational teams involved.

A safeguarding expert from a national children's charity was also commissioned to challenge and advise the manager carrying out the review.

On 14 May 2012, Avon and Somerset Police told social services they were investigating the foster father of the girl, known in the report as Child S.

At that point, she had been with the family for three months. She was not removed until 28 May.

'Grabbed around throat'

The case review said that "when allegations were received about the indecent images, procedures were followed".

Continuing, it said that there was "a lack of clear timescales and clear evidence of a risk assessment and safety plan to support the decisions made".

"However, there was clear thinking and professional reasons as to why S was not removed from her placement earlier; when clear evidence was established, S was removed that same day."

The case was originally heard at the Family Proceedings Court in October 2012, but owing to an injunction, it could not be reported until it was reviewed in the High Court.

Court papers also showed the girl had told her social worker and biological father that she had been "strangled" by another foster child living at the house.

A decision was made by her social worker not to have her seen by a doctor.

The report into the case said that "child protection procedures were not followed through in a timely way when S made the disclosure about being grabbed around the throat".

"No-one discussed the allegation with, or made a referral to, the local authority designated officer who deals with complaints about professionals.

"A more thorough investigation would have given professionals a clearer picture of the stresses that S was being exposed to and a clearer assessment of any harm she may be at risk from within the placement."

Policy changed

The case review also criticised social workers for being "distracted" after agreeing a new home should be found for S.

The report said that "this understanding that S would move anyway distracted them from treating S's allegation seriously and making a decision about the safety of the placement based on evidence".

It also said that the multi-agency investigations into the allegation made by S, and the indecent images, "lacked urgency, rigorous interrogation, and analysis".

Jean Pollard, the service director of Children and Young People's Services at the council, said as a result of the review, "areas of social work practice which will have knock-on benefits for children and young people" were being tightened up.

"The recording of all discussions where the relationships with family members or foster carers are difficult and where they could potentially affect the quality of social work practice with children and families has been included in our new supervision policy being launched next month," she said.

"All other recommendations have already been actioned and audits will be carried out to ensure they are embedded in practice."

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