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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of Lambeth Council Investigation Report


I.3: Internal inspection and oversight

Visits by staff and councillors

4. Some councillor visits did take place. Ms Bernadette Khan (a co-opted member of the Lambeth Social Services Committee in the 1970s) explained her visits to children’s homes, including Shirley Oaks:[1]

the children’s home visits were rota visits which were carried out in pairs by committee members, who would report back on those visits at committee meetings”.[2]

Mrs (now Lady) Janet Boateng, a councillor and chair of the Social Services Committee from 1982 to 1986, also referred to a rota of visits by committee members. She told us that she was keen to visit all children and adult residential establishments, accompanied by staff, when she became chair of the Social Services Committee.[3]

5. In 1987, a review chaired by Mr Millius Palayiwa (see Part C) recommended that “a formal full scale review of each establishment be completed by the Homes Manager in conjunction with the officer-in-charge, four times a year”.[4] Mr Palayiwa considered that there was a lack of “reviewing visits” of children’s homes at the time. This recommendation was never implemented.

6. Ms Phyllis Dunipace, who chaired the Social Services Committee between 1986 and 1988, recalled visiting personally each children’s home approximately once a year, but she was uncertain of the frequency of councillor visits more generally or whether visits were recorded.[5] Ms Joan Twelves, councillor from 1986 to 1994 and Leader of Lambeth Council from 1989 to 1991, said “I definitely never visited a children’s home”, although she was not a member of the Social Services Committee and she was aware that other councillors were visiting.[6] Mr Stephen Whaley, former chair of the Social Services Committee who succeeded Ms Twelves as Leader in 1992, told us: “I don’t remember actually visiting homes”.[7]

7. Ms Clare Whelan was a Lambeth councillor from 1990 to 2014 and a member of the Social Services Committee between 1990 and 1994. She told us that she undertook visits in the early 1990s, but:

I was concerned that even though there was some written and lip service encouragement of visits to children’s homes, the fact was that they were being discouraged or prevented … I was concerned that there would be an unalterable rota and officers would therefore have control over which homes were visited and when. I think, given my concerns about children’s homes and what was going on in them, I felt it was important that I should have the right to go to children’s homes unannounced acknowledged.[8]

8. In 1993, following an inspection of three of Lambeth Council’s children’s homes – Stockwell Park Road, Lorn Road and Angell Road – the SSI recommended that, within six months:

Elected members and senior managers should agree and operate a system of routine visiting to all children’s homes”.[9]

The SSI 1993 report also stated that visits should focus on areas of concern raised during inspections, and that reports and findings in respect of the visits should be presented to Lambeth Council’s Social Services Committee for comment and action.

9. Ms Anna Tapsell, a Lambeth councillor between 1990 and 1998 and chair of the Social Services Committee from 1993 to 1996, described undertaking visits to children’s homes herself. She also referred to practical problems, such as coordinating visits in pairs: “often, it wasn’t possible for other councillors to do it because they were working”.[10]

10. In a subsequent report in May 1994, the SSI noted that “Elected members had not made regular visits to the units to monitor the quality of care”.[11]

11. Even after the two SSI reports, there was no effective or regular system of visits to Lambeth Council’s children’s homes by elected councillors or staff, despite their legal obligation to do so.

12. In 2000, the final report by Mr John Barratt (which concerned allegations of child sexual abuse by Steven Forrest at Angell Road children’s home) identified a consistent failure to undertake councillor visits as required:

the Committee both squandered this monitoring opportunity, and failed to realise, and act upon, its own repeated and obvious ineffectiveness in organising such visiting”.[12]

Plans were followed by failed implementation, failed implementation was followed by criticism, criticism was followed by concern, and concern was again followed by plans etc. It is an account of repeated failure to observe legal requirements over many years.[13]

13. A succession of councillors did not carry out their statutory obligation to visit children’s homes. This failure persisted over decades. There appears to have been a readiness to assume that someone else was undertaking visits, without checking whether this was the case.

14. The Barratt final report was equally critical of officers’ failure to visit:

Normal management within the Department should include monitoring, and most monitoring should be carried out by, and as a part of, normal management. Systematic internal monitoring of good quality, covering all activities, can only come from a sound management system, and it is a basic Conclusion of this Report that such a system has been lacking.”[14]

15. Regular visits by staff to children’s homes do not appear to have been a priority, including among senior staff. When asked if he visited any of the children’s homes during his last two years as director of social services, Mr Robin Osmond (director from 1977 to 1988) told us that he visited children’s homes:

more regularly in the early days of my time at Lambeth … But increasingly the volume of work and the intensity of work in all sorts of ways meant that I visited less frequently. So I wouldn’t have visited different homes at more than, say, a six-monthly interval.”[15]

Mr David Pope, director of social services from 1988 to 1995, told us that, while it was his aim to visit the approximately 80 establishments for which he was responsible – and he did visit some children’s homes – he was unable to visit all of them.[16]

Lambeth Council’s inspection unit

16. In accordance with guidance under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, local authorities were required to set up units to inspect adult and children’s residential care.[17] Lambeth Council’s internal inspection unit was formed in April 1991 and continued to operate until 1998.[18] Its purpose was to provide a structured internal inspection system, which would act to alert senior management to problems or failing standards of care.

17. During its first year, 1991/92, the inspection unit and children’s services managers jointly inspected 10 of the Council’s 11 children’s homes. Although the intention appears to have been for an annual inspection of every home, after 1991/92 there were no further inspections of children’s homes, despite there being seven children’s homes in operation in both 1992/93 and 1993/94.[19]

18. The unit’s 1994/95 annual report stated that it would not carry out any further inspections of children’s homes due to the closure process that was underway.[20] The planned closure of children’s homes did not alter Lambeth Council’s legal obligation to inspect them while they were in operation. The closures were not completed until 1996, and even then Chestnut Road remained open.[21]

19. In April 1994, the SSI carried out an inspection of Lambeth Council’s inspection unit.[22] Its report concluded that the unit had not met its statutory and advisory targets.[23]

20. This reflected an established pattern by Lambeth Council staff and councillors.

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