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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

F.8: Lambeth Council in 2020

54. The percentage of children in the care of Lambeth Council who were placed in residential accommodation fluctuated between 20 percent and 37 percent from 1965 to 1996. Following the closure of Lambeth Council’s children’s homes and a nationwide shift towards foster care as the preferred option for accommodating children, the percentage of children in the care of Lambeth Council placed in residential accommodation reduced to between 1 percent and 6 percent in the years 2008 to 2018.[1] In 2020, 72 percent of children (259) were in foster placements and 20 percent (71) in secure units, children’s homes or semi-independent living accommodation.[2]

55. Councillor Edward Davie, the designated statutory lead member for children’s services from April 2020, confirmed to us that Lambeth Council has no residential homes in 2020 and of those children placed in residential care, “they are nearly all out of borough”. Councillor Davie told us that the majority of children are looked after in foster care.[3] In 2020, figures for all children in the care of Lambeth Council reveal that 47 percent (170) of children in the care of Lambeth Council are placed out of borough and within 20 miles of their home, and 18 percent (65) are in placements outside the borough and more than 20 miles from home.[4]

56. Lord Herbert Laming described to us how it could become a case of “out of sight, out of mind” for children who are placed far away from their home.[5] He also referred to his concerns regarding the placing of children in unregistered accommodation and children undergoing multiple moves of placements and schools. As Lord Laming asked rhetorically, “Is that what a good parent does to a child in care?[6]

57. This concern is applicable to residential and foster placements and vigilance is required in vetting foster carers and conducting visits. Councillor Edward Davie noted that he had “no reason to doubt” the vetting of foster carers employed by external agencies.[7]

58. In relation to visiting looked after children during the Covid-19 pandemic, in June 2020, Councillor Davie said that “89% of our visits that we’re meant to carry out took place, despite coronavirus. The majority of those, two-thirds, were done virtually, and one third were done in person.”[8] This means, of course, that 11 percent of visits did not take place.

59. Ms Carolyn Adcock, a senior inspector with Ofsted, gave evidence to the Inquiry about the current situation regarding the placing of children out of borough:

London, as a region, doesn’t have that many children’s homes, so the London authorities tend to use children’s homes not too far away from London, but looking possibly towards Kent and in the south-east. But for particular specialist placements, they may place children further away in the country or may, on occasion, perhaps place in Scotland or Wales.”[9]

She acknowledged that Ofsted was aware of the concerns that children placed a long way out of borough could both be removed from family ties and also at risk of being insufficiently supervised because of the geographical distance. This was something taken into account in selecting cases for inspection.[10] Ms Adcock also referred to a particular case in 2016, when an inspection took place of children in Lambeth Council’s care placed in Sheffield. The documents recorded a failure of staff in children’s social care “to support young people placed a long way from home and out of the area”.[11] Specifically, when there was an allegation of rape made by one Lambeth Council child placed in Sheffield, neither Lambeth Council nor Sheffield Council convened a strategy meeting.

60. Ms Adcock told us that she contacted Lambeth Council about the case and received an immediate acknowledgement from Ms Annie Hudson (strategic director for children’s services at Lambeth Council from May 2016 to March 2020), who was very concerned:

We got a further, more detailed response within a few working days of making that referral. They clearly had looked at the case, and they did acknowledge that they should have taken more robust action which we would agree with”.[12]

This specific response is a positive departure from previous practice.

61. The Inquiry received substantial evidence from former children in care that their voices were not heard within Lambeth. LA-A131, in written submissions made at the conclusion of the inquiry, commented:

Information and education should be provided to all children at the commencement of their care experience about right and wrong behaviour from those who are charged with their care, and other children in care, along with key information about to whom, and how, complaints can be made.[13]

62. We were told that children looked after by Lambeth Council today are given information on how to make a complaint. There is also a dedicated participation officer for looked after children and care leavers, who is able to appoint an independent advocate to support the young person with a complaint if they wish.[14] There is no obligation for children to approach the participation officer; they can also go straight to the independent advocacy service or speak to a teacher or foster carer.[15] The intention is to facilitate the raising of a complaint, not to put up barriers to concerns being raised. The advocacy service is described as a child-centred service, independent from all statutory agencies, that allows the child or young person to have their views and interests put forward by an independent advocate.[16] In 2017/18, 29 complaints were referred to the independent advocate, in 2018/19 there were 34 complaints and in 2019/20 there were 38 complaints.[17] In addition to dealing with individual complaints, feedback from the advocacy service and the annual report is intended to enable themes and patterns to be identified and disseminated so as to inform learning and improve the service offered.

63. Councillor Davie was asked about the Children’s Social Care quality assurance annual complaints report 2019/2020, which set out a complaint that was upheld about care leavers and carers receiving financial support on time. Councillor Davie recognised when asked in oral evidence that it was “totally unacceptable” that problems with financial control systems in the 2019/20 period resulted in certain invoices from care leavers not being paid on time.[18] He told us that all outstanding invoices had now been paid, and new financial control systems were in place to make sure that it does not happen again.

64. With specific reference to care leavers, Councillor Davie was of the view that whilst they were provided with an assistant to help them access services such as education, housing and health, more could be done to provide a wider range of opportunities in the training and jobs market.[19] We note that the 2018 Ofsted inspection report observed:

Foster carers provide good support and care, and increasingly more young people are able to live with their foster families after they are 18 years old, particularly if they attend university. Children who are looked after are doing well in education and receive good support to achieve their best.”[20]

65. Corporate parenting requires all Lambeth Council staff and councillors to do as much as they can to improve the lives of children in care, and to ask the critical question in respect of children ‘would this be good enough for my child?’[21] Councillor Davie told us that:

at the heart of [corporate parenting] is ensuring that the children that we are legally responsible for as children looked after have the same opportunities, protection and safety as I would provide for my biological children, who happen to be in my household.[22]

66. When asked by the Chair whether newly appointed elected members are given induction training into their role as corporate parents – and more widely into their statutory responsibilities concerning the welfare of children – Councillor Davie said they were, but such training was not currently mandatory. He told us: “That is certainly something I would like to change”.[23]

67. Regular and updated training into developing issues surrounding child protection and the role of corporate parents should be mandatory for elected members.

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