"Dismay" at Lambeth Council inaction over child sexual abuse claims

By Robert Firth - Local Democracy Reporter

18th Oct 2022 | Local News

A South London council has been ordered to pay a dad £1,150 after it ignored concerns that his daughter was being sexually abused. 

Lambeth Council failed to investigate claims the nine-year-old had seen her mum, and mum's partner – a known sex offender – having sex while sharing a bed with the couple. 

Council staff received tip-offs about the alleged incident from the girl's dad and another individual in 2018 but didn't act on these concerns, according to a report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman – which deals with complaints about councils. Instead, social workers allowed the girl to keep living with her mum – an alcoholic who refused to seek help and on one occasion forgot to pick her daughter up from school. 

The council also failed to take action when it received a report that her mum's new partner – a sex offender – would be moving in with her mum. The girl's dad, known as Mr B, "was caused prolonged, significant and unnecessary distress" by the council's failure to protect his daughter, according to the ombudsman decision, dated August 29. 

It said Lambeth Council's child protection services "consistently" let down the unnamed girl and that her father was "put to unnecessary time, trouble and frustration in raising his concerns and after making his complaint." 

The ombudsman ordered the council to pay him £1,150 compensation in recognition of the distress Lambeth's failings had caused him and the time and trouble it had taken him to expose the problems. 

Mr B lodged his first complaint with the council in 2020, saying he was concerned about the welfare of his daughter. 

The council replied to his grievance a month later but Mr B was unhappy with the response and escalated his complaint. The second investigation identified numerous failures by Lambeth Council social workers. The findings noted the incident where the girl had allegedly seen her mum and her partner have sex would be a form of child sexual exploitation and that the council had '"failed in their duties in relation to this matter."' 

The council was criticised for failing to check on the girl every 10 days – a legal requirement for a child on a child protection plan. Lambeth had taken a '"more parent-led than child-led"' approach, according to the findings. It had, therefore '"failed to gain a clear understanding of [the child's] lived experiences and the impact of mother's lifestyle."'

Meanwhile, Mr B was unable to have direct contact with his daughter because the council hadn't carried out a risk assessment. The investigation noted the delay was "significantly impacting" him. 

Lambeth Council accepted all the recommendations but the girl's dad still felt it wasn't taking his complaint seriously enough and asked for an independent panel to review his grievance. The panel published its findings in 2021, which the ombudsman noted were "extremely critical" of the council. 

Describing the case as '"very concerning,"' the panel noted the girl was still at risk and blasted staff for "a lack of management oversight, [and] unacceptable drift". It said practice had been '"inadequate.'"

It continued: '"Panel were dismayed that key actions and recommendations regarding the Child Protection Plan for a child who has spent 33 per cent of her childhood with the involvement of Lambeth social care have not been actioned and there are no defensive or logical reasons why these have not been progressed."' 

The panel made 29 recommendations to Lambeth Council, including that it 'carry out a "service-wide audit" of cases where there were cases with known registered sex offenders to see if procedures were being followed.'

When looking through the recommendations, the ombudsman found that not all the recommendations had been acted on a year later.

It said it was "concerned" an "important recommendation… may have been lost."

It ordered the council to brief staff on the importance of following London-wide child protection guidelines on working with sex offenders and to send an apology to the girl's dad in which it accepted the Ombudsman's findings. Lambeth Council has been contacted for comment, but did not respond before publication.

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: "The council has accepted the findings and has agreed action that the Ombudsman's investigator said will remedy the injustice.

"We have apologised to those who were let down and have submitted evidence that the council has carried out the actions needed in line with the Ombudsman's report. We are now focused on preventing similar failings in the future."

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