Late last month the Salford Star ran a story (click here) of how confidential child protection papers had been found in the street and handed over to us. At a time when Salford Council's Child Protection practice is being slated by OFSTED (click here), amidst management resignations and sackings in the department, it was absolutely shocking that such sensitive documents, detailing a family's personal difficulties, should have been found in this way.
The Council insisted that the files weren't missing but we had a copy nonetheless, which we handed back after they asked nicely. No copies were taken of the files because it was none of our business, or anybody else's, what was happening within a certain Salford family.
Last Friday, the Salford Star received a letter from Salford Council's Nick Page, Acting Director of Children's Services, and Gill Rigg, Chair of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board, "concerned to read that you were in possession of these case files when they clearly relate to a significant child protection process."
The letter asked us to "help" with the investigation by "identifying" who handed the files to us, who read them, whether they had a CRB check and "who made the decision not to hand over the case files immediately to Children's Services in Salford".
The tone of the letter was threatening and it was copied to Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan of Greater Manchester Police.
Below is our reply…
Dear Nick Page and Gill Rigg
I was surprised to receive your letter last Friday concerning your `investigation' into the Salford Star's possession of confidential social worker case files, particularly as you copied in the Chief Superintendent of Greater Manchester Police.
To us, it smacks of `shooting the messenger', rather than getting your own house in order, particularly in light of today's OFSTED Report, yet again criticising Salford Council's Children's Services for `Inadequate' safeguarding of our kids.
I do hope you are not implying that we somehow came across the files by illegal means – and I would like you to address this point directly.
I am really sorry that you found "no evidence of social workers misplacing the files" but that really isn't our problem. Do you think that the files just mysteriously materialised from another dimension?
You write that "We were concerned to read that you were in possession of these case files when they clearly relate to a significant child protection process" – not half as concerned as the Salford Star and its readers I can assure you!
You ask who gave us the case files and when – I can tell you that they were put through my door with an unsigned note saying they were found on Oaklands Road in Lower Kersal. Unfortunately I don't keep a diary of when things are shoved through my door.
You ask who read the information and whether they had a CRB check? Yep, I read it, otherwise I wouldn't have known what it was, and, yes, I do have a CRB check, from Salford Council actually.
You ask who made the decision not to hand over the files immediately? They were handed over immediately to Salford Council once the department had asked nicely for them back. No copies were taken of the files and no-one else read them as the content really wasn't any of our, or anybody else's, business.
What is people's business is how such confidential documents could be found lying in the street – and as a journalist it is my obligation to write about it, whether you like it or not.
I do totally object to the tone of your letter, particularly as we did our civic duty by handing them back in a sealed envelope. If this is how people get treated, then next time this happens we shall hand over the files directly to the family concerned and see what they have to say. Or maybe we should inform them now about how their life story was found lying in the street?
I do hope this answers all your points, and do hope that Salford City Council Children's Services manages to improve its safeguarding rating to at least `adequate' in the near future.
Editor, Salford Star.
Cc Chief Superintendent Kevin Mulligan, Greater Manchester Police
Mike Burrows, Chief Executive Salford Primary Care Trust
The Salford Star asked Salford Council why it is, in effect, shooting the messenger by involving the police with investigations into Salford Star's expose of confidential child case studies found lying in the street. We are still waiting for a response...
See Salford Council Children's Services slammed by OFSTED on Safeguarding kids - click here
Stop Press: 5:30pm 21st June 2010
We have just received an explanation from Nick Page, via Salford City Council...
"The letter was sent on behalf of the Salford Safeguarding Children's Board, whose key partners include the police and NHS Salford. Clearly, these papers are confidential and extremely sensitive. This is why there are limited copies produced for specific agencies and individuals involved in a family's care, and it is why I was able to confirm the city council has not misplaced any such papers.
"It is not a case of shooting the messenger but a wholly appropriate response to find out how the papers were passed on to a third party. If there has been a breach of process or protocol we would need to understand what had happened in order to prevent its reoccurrence. I make no apology for that."
Salford Star responds:
"Didn't know there was any breach in protocol leaving stuff lying around the streets and someone picking it up..."