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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


E.5: The safety of children in foster care: 2000

29. These examples suggest wider dysfunction in Lambeth Council’s fostering and adoption services. When Mr Eric de Mello took up his role as service manager within the department in 1998, he discovered that not all foster carers had undergone police checks.[1] He issued an instruction in July 1998 that all foster carers – current and prospective – should be checked against Lambeth Council’s central social care records and with the police.[2] The checks were not completed.[3]

30. On 5 February 1999, Mr de Mello wrote formally to Ms Celia Pyke-Lees, executive director of social services, stating that he could not guarantee the safety of foster care households.[4]

31. An independent auditor, Diane Edwards, was appointed to undertake an audit of foster carer records to ascertain the extent of the problem regarding the safety and suitability of foster carers. By the time she had reached the files of foster carers with names beginning with a ‘C’, 35 percent of the files had identified a range of serious problems, including foster carers who had failed to reveal convictions that were later recorded on their files and foster carers who had not been subject to any police checks. This revealed the serious failures by staff in children’s social care in Lambeth Council in the vetting of foster carers.[5]

32. Due to the scale of the problem, Lambeth Council’s anti-fraud team was commissioned to undertake an investigation, including the interviewing of foster carers to establish their identity and status details, with requests being made where necessary for police checks to be carried out. As a result, in March 2000, almost 50 percent of foster carers were removed from the list of available carers.[6]

33. In July 2000, the CHILE team commenced a task that led to the review of over 100 foster carers. This exercise was referred to as the Fostering in Lambeth Audit.[7] The audit noted that there was no concise database of children looked after by foster carers; data (including children’s and carers’ names, as well as the numbers of children placed) were incorrect; finances were unclear, with irregular payments and payments ceasing; the immigration status of some children was unclear; there was a lack of clarity as to the legal status of some children and Lambeth Council’s involvement with them; and some children did not have clear care plans.[8]

34. The gravity of the position was reflected in the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) 2000 inspection report.[9] Eighteen of 196 children on the child protection register were unallocated and 82 of 731 looked after children were unallocated.[10] Lambeth Council had also discovered a “hidden looked-after population” of children or young people placed with family or friends.[11] The SSI 2000 inspection report stated that:

These children were not regarded as looked after and so were omitted from the SSD’s statistics. Neither were they allocated a social worker, visited or reviewed. No checks were made on their carers.[12]

35. It was unclear how or why this had happened, but the SSI was “extremely concerned” that children and young people were “without recourse to any support” and the protections afforded by visiting, monitoring or statutory reviews.[13] The SSI stated that:

Urgent action to clarify the situation was needed, and to ensure that children are provided, where necessary, with approved, monitored care”.[14]

36. This was an extremely serious issue. It is clear that there was no proper procedural structure in place at all in respect of the approval of foster carers in Lambeth Council in 1999. The fact that this was the position in 1999 is extraordinary. Children were placed at risk in children’s homes within Lambeth into the 1990s and, on the closure of children’s homes, they were subsequently exposed to risks within foster placements as well.

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