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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report

Contents

G.3: Themes

Knowledge and response to direct allegations of sexual abuse in the 1970s

4. During oral evidence it was emphasised by some witnesses that knowledge of child sexual abuse in the 1970s was limited and understanding developed significantly during the 1980s and 1990s.[1] While it may be the case that statutory guidance in the form of Working Together to Safeguard Children developed in the 1980s to include child sexual abuse, all categories of sexual activity against children were illegal as clearly set out in the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and no one working with children can have thought otherwise.[2]

5. This investigation focussed on five case study homes to enable the Inquiry to examine the experiences of children in Lambeth, including the experiences of those who were especially vulnerable and where communication was difficult.[3] The evidence received by the Inquiry demonstrates that some children in care in Lambeth were speaking up very clearly about child sexual abuse in the 1970s.[4]

6. In addition, criminal prosecutions had been brought in the 1970s against Lambeth Council employees such as Donald Hosegood and Patrick Grant and there is little doubt that senior leaders must have known something about the sexual abuses that were perpetrated within Lambeth Council children’s homes. Nevertheless, there was a complete disregard for the position of the children who made the allegations, and at a senior level within children’s social care the complaints against Hosegood, for example, were dismissed as “pure fantasy” by Mr N Elliott (senior children’s homes officer).[5]

7. Allegations were effectively suppressed. Internal investigations were limited and alleged perpetrators were returned to the home where the sexual abuse had taken place. In 1974, when a child made allegations of sexual abuse against another employee (William Hook), Lambeth Council terminated his employment but did not inform the police.[6]

8. While it is clear that for some children the experience of being in care – which included violence, intimidation and racism – prevented their speaking out about sexual abuse, the reality was that from the 1970s some children did report sexual abuse and senior staff and councillors must have had direct knowledge of children’s allegations. Senior staff, in the face of credible information, chose to reject children’s accounts or to ignore the risk that these individuals posed to children. Too often, the outcome of criminal proceedings determined the response to children’s allegations. Staff failed to take responsibility for ensuring that children were safe thereafter. This had devastating consequences for the protection of children in care.

Failures to deal with known sexual offenders

9. Mr Robin Osmond was the director of social services at the time when disciplinary action was taken against Michael John Carroll for misconduct in 1986 (as set out in detail in Part D).[7]

10. The management case was presented by Mr Don Thomas (senior children’s homes officer) to a panel of two: Mr David Pope (assistant director of social services) and Mr Gerallt Wynford-Jones (senior personnel officer). The panel largely accepted Carroll’s version of events. This was in spite of clear documentary evidence indicating that Carroll was not being truthful about what had happened.[8] Mr Pope’s decision to retain Carroll put a sexual offender’s interests ahead of the interests of children in Lambeth Council’s care.

11. Lambeth Council recognised that it had a responsibility “to ensure that any identified risk of abuse to the children in our care from our own staff is eliminated”.[9] The decision to retain Carroll, however, was compounded by Mr Pope’s failure to address the risks that Carroll might pose to children. This failure must also be judged in light of the Angell Road home being a centre for supposedly therapeutic ‘direct work’ in Lambeth at the time. Carroll was not moved to a different role; there was no monitoring of Angell Road where he worked or of the well-being of children who lived there.[10] Mr Pope proceeded on the unjustified basis that Carroll posed no risk to children.[11] Incomprehensibly, Lambeth Council children’s services department proposed making Angell Road a specialist home for abused children, with Carroll in charge. Although it is unclear whether this proposal took effect, it is clear that Angell Road continued to care for extremely vulnerable and very young children.

12. A number of senior staff and councillors knew about Carroll’s disciplinary proceedings at the time. Ms Phyllis Dunipace (then chair of the Social Services Committee) told the Inquiry that Mr Osmond informed her of the disciplinary proceedings and about some of the criticisms of Carroll. Nevertheless, no one appears to have pursued as an issue of concern that a convicted child sexual offender was working in a children’s home.[12]

13. The failure to recognise the significance of convictions for sexual offences became apparent again some years later. On 8 December 1992, Mr Pope wrote to Mr Herman Ouseley (at this point the chief executive) regarding leader of the Council Mr Stephen Whaley’s request to agree a blanket policy of not employing “any Schedule 1 offenders”.[13] Mr Pope explained in the note that this was not possible because of his current workload and the complexity of the issue. In particular, it was “likely to cut across existing [Equal Opportunity] policies”. Asked in evidence about the response of Mr Pope, Mr Whaley considered that Mr Pope was “putting up smokescreens”.[14] These were not complex issues. The outcome of this failure was that no review of whether sexual offenders were employed by the Council was carried out when it should have been. Safeguarding children was not a priority.

Failure to take action on internal and external reports

14. A significant number of internal, external and inspection reports were written in respect of the social care provided for children in Lambeth. The proliferation of reports stands in stark contrast with action designed to implement any recommendations. The extent to which this was a feature of Lambeth Council’s response to issues is striking. The Appleby report alone referred to 15 other reports that had been commissioned or were being produced at the same time.[15]

15. Each crisis seemed to be followed by an inquiry, only to repeat the process when a crisis occurred again. When reports were commissioned, it is clear from the evidence that they were not followed up effectively or were damagingly undermined.

Ivy House, Monkton Street, Special Review Panel (1985–1987)

16. As set out in Part C, in 1985, LA-A26 (a child with complex needs) made an allegation of sexual abuse against a staff member working at Ivy House. Mr Osmond (the director of social services at the time) was involved from the outset in Lambeth Council’s response to the sexual abuse allegations made at Ivy House (1985) and also subsequently at Monkton Street (1986). He wrote to parents of children at Ivy House informing them that an internal inquiry had found no evidence to support the allegations of sexual abuse. This letter relied entirely on the first and peremptory investigation chaired by Mr Thomas and overseen by Ms Thelma Lavender, both of whom had been dismissive of LA-A26’s allegations and provided no independent scrutiny of the complaint.

17. Following intervention by Councillor Janet Boateng and lawyers on behalf of LA-A26’s family, Mr Osmond recognised the inadequacies of the initial Ivy House inquiry that had dismissed LA-A26’s complaint.[16] Mr Osmond agreed to the setting up of a second detailed management investigation. The panel was assisted by a race relations adviser, an independent expert in child sexual abuse and a consultant psychiatrist who knew LA-A26. The management inquiry concluded in August 1986 that LA-A26 suffered sexual abuse by LA-F12 on more than one occasion at Ivy House.[17] In light of this, disciplinary proceedings were brought against LA-F12 for gross misconduct.[18]

18. In February 1987, Black and in Care and the Brixton Family Support Group wrote to Ms Linda Bellos, the leader of the Council, pursuing demands for “a complaints procedure for children with mental disabilities in Lambeth children’s homes”.[19] Ms Bellos, whilst still in post but towards the end of her period as leader, properly referred the letter to Ms Dunipace and Mr Osmond for their attention.[20]

19. In a memo dated 19 March 1987, following the conclusion of the management investigation, Mr Osmond said:

I think that in learning to understand the importance of the child’s point of view in these matters, we have become much more open to the possibility that the reality is that child [sexual] abuse may have occurred.[21]

20. He referred to the initial inquiry – discounting that a staff member could have abused a child – as being “naive”, saying “in retrospect my concern is how we do something about it in the future”. Mr Osmond ended his memo:

I agree that many of the points have implications for the future management of Ivy House and our other establishments. I have referred some of these to the special review panel and there are a number of associated issues that have since arisen in relation to allegations of child sexual abuse in other settings.[22]

21. The Special Review Panel (chaired by Mr Millius Palayiwa) had been created in November 1986, to review arrangements for the investigation of allegations of sexual assault, and to consider improvements to management and supervisory systems.

22. Mr Palayiwa gave evidence to the Inquiry that he submitted the Review Panel interim report dated June 1987 to the chief executive, Mr Arthur John George, and considered that it was for the chief executive to take steps to publish it.[23] It is apparent that there was disagreement between the special panel members, which prevented finalisation of the Review Panel interim report.[24] Publication never happened and there is no evidence to suggest that outstanding issues were pursued by Mr George to ensure that the Review Panel interim report was finalised and its recommendations made known.

23. When questioned about the fact that the Review Panel interim report was never presented to the Social Services Committee and its recommendations were not implemented, Mr Osmond replied:

I have no recollection of why that report was not submitted to committee. My only recollection is, having read the documents which you provided, my understanding from those documents is that the report was requisitioned by the chief executive at the time. Having read the papers, I assumed that it was his responsibility for the report to be delivered or withdrawn, but I have no recollection of it.”[25]

Mr Osmond appears to have washed his hands of the Review Panel interim report, despite its importance.

24. Mr Osmond, in addition to his involvement in the Ivy House complaint, had also initiated the Monkton Street inquiry. This was a detailed inquiry that appropriately called on experts and heard from parents. Recommendations included additional staff training and the suggested production of a leaflet for parents and the public on identifying and responding to suspected child abuse. There is no record, however, of its recommendations being implemented.

25. In light of Mr Osmond’s role as director of social services, and his knowledge of a number of child sexual abuse complaints, the implementation of both the Monkton Street panel’s recommendations and those of the special panel should have been a priority.

26. Ms Dunipace (chair of the Social Services Committee from 1986 to 1988) was aware of the commissioning of the Special Review Panel.[26] She had also advised councillors that any recommendations of the special panel should be made public.[27] Yet when no report was produced for the Committee there is no evidence to indicate that she enquired about the report’s contents or its production. When asked whether its recommendation for a child sexual abuse investigation unit might have been followed up at this time, Ms Dunipace said “I think it is a pity that we missed an opportunity”.[28]

The Morton Reports (1988–1990)

27. In 1988, Mr Robert Morton became the principal manager, children’s homes. He wrote four reports during his time in post (the ‘Morton Reports’).[29] In 1988, he co-authored a report with Ms Josie Durrant (assistant director children and young persons division) (the first Morton report). This report was submitted to the Children’s Homes Sub-Committee of Lambeth Council and raised a number of important issues, including that children were being taken into residential care when they should not have been. A considerable number of children aged five years old or younger were being referred for residential care.[30] Having been taken into care and required to live in a children’s home, few care plans for children existed. The majority of the homes had little information about the children living there.[31]

28. There was little if any knowledge of the quality of care provided in these homes. Part of the reason for this lack of knowledge was because of the numbers of children who did not have an allocated social worker.

29. When Mr Philip Byron took up his post as placement officer in September 1988, he also “was frankly appalled at the state of affairs.[32] Children’s social care did not know anything about some of the children living in homes as well as very young children living in children’s homes because of a lack of available foster parents.[33]

30. In June 1989, Mr Morton prepared an overview of the children’s homes service for councillors (the Second Morton report). He identified that basic information was not available, including how many children were in Lambeth homes; how long children had been in care for and for what reasons; reasons for admissions to homes; as well as the age range of children and their ethnic background. This information was obtained by a monitoring process set up by Mr Morton.[34] He set out a number of proposals for the reform of the service, which he described as having “decayed over a number of years”. He added that it was paramount that the interests of children, not staff, came first.[35]

31. The failures of management and oversight detailed in the Morton reports were systematic and entrenched. They went beyond setting out the poor quality of care afforded to children once they were admitted to Lambeth Council children’s homes. They demonstrated that children were being taken into care in the first place because of failures in preventative social work.[36] Once in care, children were exposed to the risks of abuse, including sexual abuse. The interests of children appeared to be secondary to those of adults.

32. The evidence before the Inquiry showed no indication that senior staff or councillors took appropriate action in response to the June 1989 report. In July 1989, Mr Morton wrote a further report (the Third Morton report):

The situation in the Section, as I have detailed at every Sub-Committee meeting, verbally and in writing, is not only at crisis point but very dangerous. I cannot impress this point too strongly. Members must be aware of the possible implications of the present situation.[37]

33. Mr Morton’s final report (the Fourth Morton report) was written in September 1990, after which he left Lambeth Council. He summarised the position as follows:

My personal fear, concern and indeed a factor of my decision to move on, relate to the standard of care, lack of planning and lack of [adherence] to good professional standards and procedures … We continue to admit young people into care contrary to Council Policy, when totally inappropriate. Young people remain in care due to lack of planning intervention and appropriate resources. Young people are placed in private and voluntary accommodation which have not been visited, are miles away from the community and indeed some cases miles away from London. There can be little regard for placing young people appropriately which very often results in black teenagers being placed in a white rural community. The number of under fives admitted into care continues to grow and the timescale for young people remaining in care has continued to escalate. The number of unallocated cases, the lack of statutory reviews, clear planning is totally unacceptable … ”.[38]

34. The Morton reports demonstrate a state of affairs that is consistent with other evidence the Inquiry heard about the risks that children were exposed to during this period.

35. Mr Osmond, as the director of social services, was responsible for the unsatisfactory state that children’s social care was in leading up to April 1988. During his significant tenure, child care policy around admitting children into care was not adequately implemented. The failures in area social work resulted in children coming into care when that outcome could have been avoided. Many of these children ended up living in children’s homes that were not safe. Mr Osmond failed to recognise that there had been a chronic lack of planning and management within social care during his term as director. He told the Inquiry, however:

I don’t think there was a lack of planning and management in those days. But I recognise that they were extremely difficult times; particularly in the aftermath of the closure of the Shirley Oaks homes, which took something like three or four years longer than I expected.[39]

36. Ms Joan Twelves was leader of Lambeth Council between May 1989 and May 1991. She was not familiar with the Morton reports. When asked about them, she said:

The whole time I was leader, it was a matter of crisis management of one sort or another, so it’s – there were so many different reports that obviously – I hate to think of it that they might have got submerged, but I don’t think I ever saw them.”[40]

37. Ms Twelves described the major effect” of the influx of so many inexperienced councillors taking up positions in 1986 as one of almost “pot luck when it came to relevant experience for various posts.[41] She explained that during her time she focussed on housing and education. As far as children’s social care was concerned, she said that she benefited from having two deputy leaders in succession who had been Chair of the Social Services Committee. She explained that she largely depended on their feedback, although also made it clear that she still expected the Chair of the Social Services Committee to come to chairs’ meetings and report.[42] It was clear from Ms Twelves’ evidence that she was unaware of a number of key issues in children’s services that had arisen during her tenure.

38. Ms Dunipace was Ms Twelves’ deputy between 1989 and 1990 and chair of the Social Services Committee between 1986 and 1988. She was asked in oral evidence whether she had seen Mr Morton’s reports. Ms Dunipace said that when she was deputy leader she was:

in charge of introducing a community charge into Lambeth. So my recollection is stronger of that side than on the children’s homes side. So I really don’t remember those reports.[43]

It is clear from this evidence that neither the leader nor Ms Dunipace as deputy leader focussed on the serious issues raised by Mr Morton’s reports.

39. Mr Whaley, however, saw Mr Morton’s reports and discussed Mr Morton’s concerns with Councillor Clare Whelan. Mr Whaley was chair of the Social Services Committee (1990 to 1991) and later leader of the Council (1991 to 1994). In his evidence he explained that he had decided that children’s homes should be shut. The reasons included that he did not consider that Lambeth Council could run children’s services or homes in a safe manner.[44] Mr Whaley was candid in his evidence to the Inquiry about both the situation that existed, his response and his inability to make progress. In relation to the issue of allocation of social workers to children, he accepted that this left him worried that they were leaving children at risk. Nevertheless, Mr Whaley signed a letter to the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) in December 1992. The letter invited an inquiry into children’s homes and, in spite of the problems that beset Lambeth Council, presented a falsely optimistic view of the services provided to children:

During the last few months, the council has been working closely with the SSI and the police investigating what had been happening in the past. We have improved our practices during the last two years with better management and procedures and are confident that we are providing a high standard of care for the children we are responsible for.”[45]

40. Mr Whaley believed that this letter had been drafted by the Director of Social Services, Mr Pope, and that Lambeth Council had not improved its practices. Mr Whaley’s view was that the Council spent a lot of time inhibiting transparency and that problems were covered up.[46]

41. No one who read Mr Morton’s reports between 1988 and 1990 could have been in any doubt about the seriousness of the situation for children in care in Lambeth and which had continued to develop during the 1980s. The child care practice leading to Mr Morton’s findings and the collective response to these reports was grossly inadequate.

42. Although councillors and officers bear a joint responsibility for the gravity of the situation and failure to effect changes described by Mr Morton, some senior officers were in a position to act and to respond effectively to Mr Morton’s warnings and did not do so.

43. Mr Pope submitted a report to the Social Services Committee on 30 January 1990. The expressed objective of his report was:

promoting the continuing development of the service … to change and to clarify the precise role of the childrens homes, to bring the service as a whole more fully into line with changing needs and circumstances.[47]

44. It is apparent from the evidence the Inquiry heard that the response to Mr Morton’s reports was inadequate. The report and policy that were produced in response to Mr Morton’s concerns failed to improve the situation for children. As the December 2000 SSI review report, Joint Review of Lambeth Borough Council Social Services, stated, even 10 years later, there remained areas within social care that needed urgent attention, including whether “over 100 children who were placed with carers or relatives are in safe placement”. As Ms Hudson accepted:

regrettably, even by 2000, Lambeth was unable to appropriately prioritise and adequately meet the needs of the children to whom it owed a responsibility … appropriate standards were not being met”.[48]

45. Mr (now Lord) Ouseley was chief executive between 1990 and 1993. He told us that the September 1990 Morton report had not been brought to his attention at the time and he did not see this (or any of Mr Morton’s earlier reports) until they were sent to him by this Inquiry. Lord Ouseley’s initial impression was that social care:

was reasonably well led … I thought that the chair [of Social Services] and the director had a close relationship in which the director was accounting to the chair”.[49]

In response to the question who did he rely on as chief executive to bring concerns within social care to his attention, Lord Ouseley explained that, across all 11 directorates, concerns would come to him from a number of sources, including backbench members, leading members, chairs of committee and members of the public.[50]

46. It became apparent from Lord Ouseley’s oral evidence that in practice as chief executive he was reliant to a large extent on the information provided to him by Mr Pope and other senior social care staff. Lord Ouseley explained that:

problems being faced in childcare and child protection within Lambeth were matters that came up incidentally in most cases at our management team meeting and presented by the Director of Social Services.[51]

47. In 1990, Mr Ouseley became aware through a press report that the SSI had reported on the large number of unallocated child protection cases in Lambeth. A memo suggests that he was not aware of the position until he read about it in the newspaper. Having read a press report, Mr Ouseley sent a memo to social care staff asking about it. Mr Verley Chambers responded with an eight-point action plan.[52]

48. There is no evidence to suggest that any chair of social services or councillor brought concerns to Mr Ouseley that they had no confidence in Mr Pope to manage or lead social care. In 1992, however, Councillor Whelan had communicated with the police, raising a number of concerns about children’s homes and about South Vale children’s home, in particular.[53] Councillor Whelan spoke directly with Mr Ouseley about these matters. The correspondence that followed between Mr Ouseley and Councillor Whelan was fractious on the part of Mr Ouseley (see Part F), but he told us in evidence that he agreed she had every right to go to the police with her concerns and that this was not his frustration. As Councillor Whelan had good relationships with the director, he questioned “why on this occasion is she saying she won’t go to the director, she’s coming to me, I’m the post box”.[54]

49. It must be said that enormous demands were placed on Mr Ouseley as chief executive between 1990 and 1993, significantly exacerbated by his exposure to disgraceful intimidation in the workplace. Lambeth Council’s working environment was not conducive to the sharp and relentless focus that child protection demanded from its chief executive.

The Clough report (1993)

50. In 1993, some seven years after the event, Richard Clough was commissioned by Lambeth Council to undertake an independent inquiry into Lambeth Council’s retention of Carroll. The terms of reference were agreed between Lambeth Council and the Department of Health. The terms of reference included – among others – to examine and comment on the process of Carroll’s application to foster, and the propriety of formal and informal communication between Wandsworth Council and Lambeth Council staff and councillors during that process. We note the terms of reference were narrow and did not include express consideration of the risk posed by Carroll and whether children at Angell Road or Highland Road may have been harmed. Mr Clough told us that Lambeth Council did not make him aware of any allegations of child sexual abuse made against Carroll subsequent to his conviction. No one he interviewed expressed concerns about the risk Carroll posed or concerns that he might have been abusing children at the time.[55]

51. Mr Clough did not make recommendations but within his report he told us that he made “in the region of 20 findings”.[56] Mr Clough arrived at conclusions about the foster application considered by Wandsworth Council in 1988 (see Part D). The report concluded that Mr Jack Smith (principal officer for social work) “should not have become involved in this particular case in the way that he did and his professional behaviour during this time is a cause for regret and concern”.[57]

52. Following receipt of the Clough report, as director of social services Mr Pope submitted a report in February 1994 to the chair of social services (Councillor Anna Tapsell) setting out the findings of an internal management inquiry conducted by Mr Chambers (assistant director community services). This came to different conclusions from those reached by Mr Clough and purported to exonerate Mr Smith from any wrongdoing.[58]

53. This is a striking example of Lambeth Council commissioning an external and independent report (the Clough report) and then producing another report that wholly undermined the original. That original report had been critical of Mr Pope, amongst others. The effect of this was to negate the very purpose of having independent scrutiny and to protect the interests of those staff criticised by Mr Clough. This action was potentially detrimental to the safety of children. The Clough report should have been sufficient on its own for councillors and the chief executive to decide whether disciplinary action was warranted. Mr Pope should not have been part of any decision-making in response to the criticisms made of individuals in that report.

54. Councillor Tapsell was chair of the Social Services Committee at the time that the internal report was published. The report was specifically addressed to the chair and vice-chair of the Social Services Committee.[59] The internal report came to different conclusions from the Clough report and yet this was neither challenged nor action taken against Mr Smith in the light of Mr Clough’s conclusions. The Social Services Committee under Councillor Tapsell’s leadership provided no oversight or scrutiny of the response by senior staff to the Clough report or the role played by Mr Pope and other senior staff in relation to Carroll. It did not consider any lessons learned. Mr Smith’s ongoing role was not questioned by Councillor Tapsell or any other councillor and he remained in post until January 1996.

The SSI reports (1991–2001)

55. Councillors Tapsell and Whelan demonstrated willingness to enlist the assistance of the SSI and ministers to address a number of their concerns relating to the safety of children in children’s homes. In the case of Councillor Tapsell, her correspondence with the SSI contributed to the appointment of Mr Clough to conduct his investigation into the retention of Carroll.

56. Consideration of the SSI reports does not appear to have caused any councillors or leaders of the Council to challenge the ability of any individual senior staff to manage social care and to effect change. Mr Pope told the Inquiry that, before his eventual departure in 1995, no councillor had ever suggested to him that he should consider resigning, nor had they questioned directly or indirectly his fitness to be the director of social services.[60]

57. Mr Whaley was questioned about whether Mr Pope should have been disciplined in relation to the decision to issue Carroll with a warning in 1986. Mr Whaley explained that, at the time, they were dealing with many issues and he did not think that this was something that they should pursue. He was of the view that it was a matter for the chief executive as the head of the service. Mr Whaley accepted that he could have raised any loss of confidence in Mr Pope with the chief executive.[61]

The Barratt reports (1999–2000)

58. Mr Pope was the director of social services between 1988 and 1995. This was a period during which Lambeth Council was subject to near constant criticism for its failures towards children in its care. The reports of John Barratt considered Lambeth Council’s failure to respond adequately to disclosures made about Steven Forrest (Part D). Mr Barratt’s final report (published in 2000), Two Lambeth Independent Child Protection Inquiries 19992000, drew three basic conclusions, which encompassed Mr Pope’s time as director of social services. These conclusions went to the basic functions of the Social Services Directorate:

  • The Council through its inadequate arrangements in the Social Services Committee, the Department and the Division has repeatedly failed to fulfil both its statutory duties and its own policies relating to the care and protection of children.
  • The Council has repeatedly tried during the past decade, but repeatedly failed, to create and control an effective Department and Division.
  • The Council’s executive chain of command (assuming it once existed) linking departmental action to the Council has decayed and disintegrated.

59. The Barratt final report criticised Ms Celia Pyke-Lees (executive director) and Ms Constantia Pennie (assistant director for children and families) for serious failings in their response to LA-A29’s allegation of sexual abuse against Steven Forrest in January 1996. Ms Pennie did not respond appropriately to the significance of LA-A29’s disclosure, persistently failed to involve child protection specialists and other managers in planning meetings and did not appreciate the departmental significance of the allegations.[62] In May 1999, Ms Pennie was suspended. Ms Pyke-Lees failed to understand the serious implications of the disclosure and to “grip the situation” in her conduct of a meeting called to discuss it.[63] Mr Barratt found that these were very serious errors of leadership.

60. Ms (now Dame) Heather Rabbatts became chief executive in 1995 and remained in post until March 2000. She faced formidable challenges. One of the issues she identified was a concern that the chief executive was too distant from the service and she sought to address this by creating a children’s first audit team located in the corporate centre. She explained that this allowed the SSI and chief executive to have a much closer relationship with the corporate centre.[64] This was essential to improve communication and to ensure that the leadership could respond appropriately to recommendations and embed a culture that learnt from past failures.

61. Dame Heather Rabbatts described how she addressed the issue of police checks for foster carers. That not all foster carers had been subject to police checks came to light in 1998 after the appointment of a new service manager for the adoption and fostering service. This resulted in the appointment of an independent auditor who uncovered that the scale of the problem was significant and action was taken.[65]

62. Dame Heather Rabbatts gave evidence about the action plan that she put in place in January 1999, to address issues in the Directorate of Social Care. She sought to recruit a high-calibre leadership team at an early stage and to set a vision and direction for the whole of the Council.[66] She described the culture of Lambeth Council as one of “fear and sexism and racism” prior to her arrival.[67] Dame Heather Rabbatts viewed the recruitment and retention of good social workers as one of the key priorities.[68]

63. Despite her efforts, Lambeth Social Services went into special measures in November 1999.[69] The problems were too extensive and too entrenched for one leader to resolve within a five-year period.

64. Lambeth Council failed many vulnerable children for over four decades. Political chaos and management dysfunction combined to distract senior officials and councillors from delivering a good service to children in their care. It would appear that only one senior council employee was held to account through disciplinary proceedings for the disastrous environment that compromised children’s safety. Undoubtedly, there were many staff and councillors trying to do their best but who were frustrated by the near paralysis of the senior leadership. This sorry state of affairs was left unchecked for too long by too many people.[70]

References

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