Edinburgh children's homes abuse scandal: New council administration must address shocking revelations in secret report – Susan Dalgety

I make no apology for returning to the care scandal that engulfs Edinburgh City Council.

After Thursday's council elections, the new councillors need make reform of Edinburgh’s secure services for children their top priority (Picture: Neil Hanna)
After Thursday's council elections, the new councillors need make reform of Edinburgh’s secure services for children their top priority (Picture: Neil Hanna)

On Thursday, voters will choose who will run vital local services for the next five years.

Councillors and handsomely paid senior officials should be serious-minded people who want the best for their city. Thoughtful, diligent grown-ups who take their responsibilities very seriously, particularly their corporate parent role for Edinburgh’s most vulnerable children.

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But the latest revelations about Edinburgh Secure Services (ESS) suggest that the current leadership of Edinburgh City Council is made up of pound-shop politicians and back-covering bureaucrats more interested in protecting their own position than looking after children in care.

Details from a secret report about allegations of misconduct at the secure units of St Katherine’s and Howdenhall have started to drip out.

The full report, commissioned in 2020 after a whistle-blower made serious allegations about the service, has yet to be published. Councillors have been shown it, but only briefly and they were not allowed to take notes.

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It emerged last week that the report shows that, five years ago, senior council officials, on the authority of the chief executive, Andrew Kerr, ordered an independent investigation into concerns about the treatment of vulnerable children.

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Edinburgh secure unit scandal: Ministers say they have not seen damning report
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At the time, the then head of social work, Michelle Miller, described the situation as "serious and extremely complex”. So far so diligent. Then, astonishingly, nothing happened.

That’s right. The independent investigation into allegations of abuse, signed off it seems by the city’s chief executive and agreed by the head of social work, simply did not happen.

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Now we have all sent emails promising action, then fail to carry it out. But bailing out of a dinner date or forgetting to pick up your mum’s dry cleaning is not quite the same as “forgetting” to commission an investigation into serious allegations of child abuse. There is simply no excuse good enough for failing to take action in such circumstances.

In an unprecedented move, Conservative councillors on the city’s Education Committee have asked for an emergency meeting, just hours before the poll on Thursday, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the scandal.

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Politicians are usually too busy knocking doors in the last week of an election campaign to do anything else, so it is a measure of the seriousness of the revelations that the meeting will go ahead this week.

It will likely take a few days after Thursday’s election for the city’s new leadership team to take shape, as the parties indulge in backroom deals for power.

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But whoever emerges victorious, whether a minority administration or an alliance between two or more parties, they must put reform of Edinburgh’s secure services at the top of their priority list.

The children let down by Edinburgh City Council have already paid the price for this unforgivable institutional failure.

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As one of the female victims allegedly told social workers: “You were bound by the law to look after me. You made my life a misery. Are you happy? For a looked after and accommodated child, does it look like I’ve been looked after enough?”

The short answer is no. It’s surely time that those responsible are held accountable for their failure of care.