A top-level inquiry has concluded that four abused children fell through the safety net of child care procedures in Wirral.

A Serious Case Review has resulted in a catalogue of criticism over the way the children's plight had been handled by almost all the public bodies they came into contact with - agencies whose task it was to protect them.

The chairman of the board responsible for child protection tonight told the Globe he regrets what happened to the children and that: "Greater credibility should have been given to what [they] were saying."

The review found that two Wirral Council social care managers took decisions which "left the children in high-risk situations."

The report says: "They appeared to adopt a particular mindset about the nature of this case which was either shared by frontline practitioners or not challenged by them.

"This 'mindset' lacked a healthy scepticism which one would expect to see in managers supervising frontline practitioners."

The document - which was finalised in April but only released this week - calls for wide-ranging changes to made.

Had the review not been prompted by a court hearing, the probe states "the failings for these children would have gone unnoticed."

The high-powered review panel was set up to study the case of the siblings, identified as Child A, B, C and D, who were subjects of private law proceedings following the separation of their parents.

The children were taken into care after the council issued legal proceedings in which the judge concluded the father had been sexually and physically abusive towards one or more of them.

The judgement listed criticism about the actions of the local authority and responses by child care management to the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of the youngsters.

The judge requested a copy of her findings was sent to the council's director and assistant director of children and young people’s services.

Her rulings sounded the alarm bells that led to the review being carried out.

The inquiry into Wirral Local Safeguarding Children's Board revealed that, apart from an initial assessment undertaken early in a four-year time frame, no other assessments took place either into the needs of the children or the parenting ability of the adults.

Yet, says the report, there was "significant evidence the children were experiencing neglect and growing up in situations of domestic violence."

It continues: “Throughout this period there were many concerns raised and shared between agencies during various meetings.

“The meetings concluded the father needed practical support to care for his children and this view prevailed - despite evidence to the contrary that the children’s needs remained unmet.”

The local authority’s approach to the parents' disputes, the report disclosed, was to view them as being "tit-for-tat" and attached little if any weight to them.

It says the mother had coerced Child A into making an allegation that her father had raped her.

The mother was arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, but it was several weeks later that the father was interviewed by police under caution on suspicion of the rape of Child A.

No further action was taken in relation to either parent, "although there were significant issues that should have resulted in further investigation."

The report says the failures to safeguard the welfare of these children were not within just one agency.

It says Merseyside Police should take steps to remind officers and staff of the policies and actions required and expected when dealing with vulnerable adults and children.

Police need an "escalation policy" to ensure senior officers are made aware of concerns and appropriate action taken.

Failure among care agencies to share information was a crucial factor - throughout the four years there were many concerns raised between agencies during various meetings.

This failure to agree how services would be co-ordinated and responses measured resulted in little change for the children.

The review goes on to say that Child A was interviewed on nine occasions into allegations of abuse.

It says "the standard of recording for each of these and the rationale for each being undertaken in the first place is extremely poor."

An issue of poor records and recording practices was identified throughout the review.

No agency recorded much detail about the children other than their appearance, attendance and academic progress in school.

The report concludes: "It is difficult to envisage how the children made sense of the various adults who appeared and disappeared in their lives and who mostly engaged not with them but with their father.

"The experiences of Child A, being interviewed and examined on so many occasions and being caught in the middle of parental and family disputes, is a sharp reminder to practitioners of what happens to children when they are not kept firmly in focus."

Among those who have been told their child safeguarding procedures need to be reviewed and tightened are Wirral Council's children and young people’s department, Merseyside probation trust, Merseyside police, Merseyside ambulance service, NHS Wirral safeguarding service, Cheshire and Wirral partnership NHS foundation trust and Wirral Council regeneration department's homelessness service.

The document says the agencies involved have demonstrated a genuine desire to learn from their mistakes and several recommendations already have been acted upon with new procedures set in place.

Dennis Charlton, independent chairman of Wirral Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, said: "The LSCB takes its safeguarding responsibilities seriously.

"It was not mandatory to undertake this Serious Case Review, but it was considered by the partners important to do so to maximise any lessons that needed to be learnt.

"On behalf of the LSCB I regret what happened to these children.

"This particular case was very complex including a number of agencies over a period of time where the professionals involved were presented with a range of different accounts from the individuals involved to what was happening.

"Greater credibility should have been given to what the children were saying and a multi-agency response put in place earlier.

"The actions agreed by the partners are being overseen by the LSCB."

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