To receive a statement from the Leader of the Council in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 9.
The Leader of the Council wished to say a few words in relation to the story covered initially in The Times newspaper last week, and subsequently in other media. He spoke for everyone in this chamber whose hearts went out to those involved in the story. Many had met Sammy Woodhouse personally, and held her in the highest of respect. Clearly her experiences in the family court have been traumatic, and that was a cause of real sorrow to all. It was not possible to comment on the specifics of Sammy’s case. Family Courts were held in private and revealing information about individual cases could result in contempt of court. The privacy of the child in the case was also paramount.
The issue centred around part of the family court proceedings and whether parents who did not have parental responsibility must legally be informed about certain legal proceedings in the family courts involving their children.
Social workers must listen to and act in the best interests of the child at all times and the Leader was confident that staff have followed the national rules correctly. Social workers have not tried to use the family courts to give convicted violent criminals access to any children, or to arrange custody for perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.
As the Local Government Association said in their statement last week: “Councils are absolutely committed to making sure the welfare and wellbeing of the child is paramount in decisions about their care.
However while these are complex issues, councils have to operate within the existing legal framework at all times.”
Some commentators last week suggested that social workers should choose when to follow the law just as a matter of “common sense”.
Had, in Rotherham, during government intervention, a social worker decided that the law did not need to apply, the Council would have been dealing with an entirely different and legitimate set of concerns.
The Leader wanted to be clear that elected politicians did not direct individual safeguarding and family court cases. Those who have argued that politicising these processes further were, in his opinion, gravely mistaken.
None of this changed the heartache from recent days, but it did not mean that the national rules were right.
Rotherham’s priority remained working to safeguard vulnerable children within the borough. Contact with the Ministry of Justice had continued over the last week and the potential issues around current practice directions in England and Wales were being treated with the gravity and urgency that they required.
An announcement from the Ministry of Justice was awaited on their next steps and support had been reiterated to participate along with other Council’s in any considerations of the guidance that may be proposed.
The Ministry of Justice have confirmed that their previous statements regarding ‘failings’ were given prior to a review of the case, and they were now considering potential issues with practice directions in England and Wales. They have said there was no suggestion Rotherham Council had operated outside of the current practice guidelines.
Of course, any clarification did not help victims and survivors affected by current guidance, and Rotherham was committed to working constructively with victims, survivors and the Ministry of Justice on the important issues raised.
The Leader was proud of all the progress made in Rotherham over the last four years and during the last week it felt like steps had been taken backwards.
Rotherham was in a different place to what it was in 2014. Not just because the Commissioner intervention was brought to an early conclusion, or because Children’s Services recovered its “Good” Ofsted rating faster than anywhere else in the country had. Looking at the Council agenda today, this was a better Council than the one visited by Alexis Jay.
This would not mean that things would not go wrong and that everything was done right, but the Council would act with integrity in putting it right.
The measure of a person was not how they fell down, but how they got up. This was not the moment to turn inwards, but to continue to do better and to be better.
The Mayor invited Councillors to ask questions or make comments on the statement by the Leader.
Councillor Cusworth reiterated, as the Leader had already suggested, this was not the place for the chamber to discuss individual cases, but expressed how difficult this was and could not imagine what women of Rotherham and survivors endured. She was amazed at the strength and bravery demonstrated in helping to bring perpetrators to justice. The matter brought to the Council’s attention in the media was of serious concern and was assured Rotherham followed the national rules correctly.
At Improving Lives Select Commission yesterday Christine Cassell from the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board attended and reinforced how amazing the transformation of Rotherham had been and unprecedented. If the Leader was in agreement the Improving Lives would like to explore the possibility of a piece of work looking at this process further down the line.
The Leader was amenable within the legal boundaries for Scrutiny to look into a piece of work on these proceedings.