Councillor David Mellen, Leader of the Council and Alison Michalska, Corporate Director for Children and Adults made a presentation to the Committee detailing the Nottingham City Council response to the report published following the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. They jointly summarised the background and reasons for the inquiry, highlighting that the inquiry had a number of focuses including local authorities, the Church and Westminster. The following information was highlighted:
(a) The scope of the Inquiry in the Nottingham context was threefold:
· To look at the institutional response to disclosures and allegation of abuse and the barriers to disclosure of such allegations
· A case study into the institutional responses to disclosure of allegations of sexual abuse in foster care and the barriers to disclosure of such allegations
· A case study into the institutional responses to disclosures of allegations of sexual abuse carried out by children against other children in care and the barriers to disclosure of such allegations.
(b) On 31st July 2019 the findings of the Inquiry were published and made two specific recommendations to Nottingham City Council
· To assess the potential risk posed by former and current foster carers directly provided by the Council and those from external agencies in relation to sexual abuse of children. Any concerns which arise should be referred to the appropriate body or process including the Disclosure and Barring Service, the Local Authority designated officer, the fostering panel and the police.
· Alongside child protection partners commission an independent external evaluation of practice concerning harmful sexual behaviour, including responses, prevention, assessment, intervention and workforce development. An action plan should be set up to ensure that any recommendations are responded to in a timely manner and progress should be reported to the City’s Safeguarding Children Partnership
(c) Nottingham City Council plan to commission the NSPCC to complete the independent external evaluation, which will be formally agreed with the Safeguarding Partnership at their meeting on 30 September 2019. A comprehensive action plan will then be developed in partnership and reported to Nottingham City Council’s Executive Board;
(d) A large piece of work has been ongoing for a number of years running alongside police investigations to look at decisions of the Council around issues raised in the first recommendation. Records from historic HR investigations or disciplinary action have been assessed and where it is felt that insufficient disclosure was made at the time contact has been made with the Disclosure and Barring Service, current employers etc. The same work is being carried out for current and historic foster carers;
(e) There were a number of further learning points for Nottingham City Council from the Inquiry.
· Approach to a public apology – Nottingham city Council has met with and offered to meet with survivors of abuse to apologise on a personal one to one basis in private and continues to offer this. There have been no convictions of staff members or of carers used by Nottingham City Council to date, however should that change and a conviction ever be made then Nottingham City Council will issue a public apology. Nottingham City Council is dedicated to continuing to meet survivors in private and apologise in person where that is the wish of the survivor.
· Revised Internal Reporting Protocol – Nottingham City Council has a robust, clearly written protocol for internal reporting.
· Strengthening reporting to Elected Members – A new process is in place for reporting to the Corporate Parenting Board, and the Safeguarding Board on a Quarterly basis on allegations of sexual abuse or sexual harm within care. The report will be made to these Boards even if there is nothing to report in order to provide assurance;
· Supporting citizens to access their records – there is now a dedicated member of the data team who offers to sit with adult care leavers and supports them whilst they access their records.
(f) The Inquiry and work that has gone on through the investigation has helped to shape today’s practice. There is now a single point of access for survivors, to access the Councils’ whole range of support services. Work is ongoing with mental health services to ensure that the appropriate help is available at the time it is needed and sought. There are strong links to victim and survivor groups and Nottingham City Council has been involved in supporting and funding the development of literature to assist signposting. Processes around information sharing with the Police have been simplified to allow easier access to information as part of investigations into allegations, allowing the investigation to progress more quickly.
The presentation was concluded with the Committee being assured that the care that children and young people receive now is unrecognisable from that historically. Nottingham City Council continues to put the safety of children and young people at the heart of its work and is dedicated to learning from the past and continuing to improve. The Committee had the opportunity to ask questions and during the discussion, the following information was highlighted:
(g) Nottingham City Council has changed the way children and young people are listened to. They have access to independent advocacy, designated teaching staff, robust Disclosure and Barring Services, Ofsted inspections of care homes, and internal processes designed to prevent abuse. These are all designed to reduce the level of risk of harm to a minimum;
(h) There are no longer the large institutional type care homes that were in place historically. Care homes are now typically up to 4 bed houses. These homes are regularly inspected by Ofsted and are subject to regular internal review processes also;
(i) There is mandatory training for all elected members on Safeguarding. This is designed to help them to recognise signs of abuse, to know how to report it and to have the confidence to do so;
(j) There is a raft of support for those people who are survivors but who have not yet felt able to come forward. There are a number of victim and survivor groups supported by and engaged with Nottingham City Council, there are mental health services available to access and there is the improved and robust policies in place ensuring that requests for service access are dealt with in an efficient way;
(k) Nottingham City Council is dedicated to help support those victims and survivors and has specialist support groups available. In particular there are specialist groups of male survivors where in the past this specialist support may not have been as accessible;
The Committee thanked Councillor David Mellen and Alison Michalska for attending the meeting and noted the content of the presentation.