As many as 42 children died last year while under the care of social services, a shocking report reveals today.
Dozens more were physically and sexually abused because of failings by social workers and other agencies.
Care watchdog Ofsted found cases which resulted in youngsters being battered, starved and even drowned. Inspectors say staff are too often governed by the 'rule of optimism' and accept at face value what family members tell them. In the process they lose sight of the needs of the child.
The findings will raise concerns over repetitions of the Baby P tragedy. Peter Connolly died at 17 months after horrific abuse by his mother, her boyfriend and his brother despite being seen more than 60 times by social workers, doctors and police.
Ofsted assessed 147 serious case reviews between April 2009 and March 2010. These are triggered after the death or serious injury of a child where abuse or neglect is suspected. Some 194 children were the subject of the review – 90 had died and 104 had been subjected to physical abuse or long-term neglect. Most were aged under five.
Two thirds of these children – 119 – were known to social services. Of these, 43 died.
Eleven had been subject to child protection plans, which replace the former at-risk register. Thirty-one were classified as 'children in need' which means they were under the direct care of social services but could have been using other services, for example to help with their disability or health problems.
Another child who died was known to social services but wasn't receiving direct care. Child protection plans had been in place for 49 children overall – 25 per cent of cases.
The Ofsted report reveals a string of problems across local authorities which have contributed to 'shortcomings in the protection of children'. These included 'insufficient' consideration of the child's needs by social workers and other staff.
Parents' explanations for bruising and other injuries were 'too readily' accepted, without further examination of the child or consultation with doctors.
The report says: 'Similarly social care staff often found it difficult to identify chronic neglect because of parents' feigned compliance with social work interventions.' They confused 'participation by parents with cooperation' and lost sight of the risks.
'A frequent lesson from the reviews was that practitioners had been affected by what is know as the "rule of optimism",' the Ofsted report adds. 'This is a tendency by social workers and healthcare workers towards rationalisation and under-responsiveness in certain situations. In these conditions, workers focus on adults' strengths, rationalise evidence to the contrary and interpret data in light of this optimistic view.'
In one case where a baby died, the mother was 'described by some professionals as a 'lovely girl'. This led them to accept at face value her claims about the level of her drug misuse. Other concerns included poor quality assessments which overlooked information and 'professional drift' that led to inaction.
Baroness Shireen Ritchie, chairman of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said the report showed there was 'no room for complacency'.
She said the death of even one child was 'one too many' but added: 'Dedicated social workers, who are part of the solution not the problem, have protected tens of thousands of vulnerable children at a time when their workload has been growing.
'It is the over-riding aim of every council in this country, and indeed virtually every parent, that we do everything within our power to keep every child safe from harm.'
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