Councillor urges authority to protect children after her adopted son was failed in the 1990s

A Stafford community leader who said her adopted son was failed by Staffordshire County Council three decades ago has urged the authority to do all it can to keep children safe from harm.

Staffordshire Place - Staffordshire County Council's Stafford headquarters.
Staffordshire Place - Staffordshire County Council's Stafford headquarters.

Ann Edgeller’s plea came as Staffordshire County Council considered the action being taken to protect vulnerable youngsters following the death of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes at the hands of his father and stepmother in Solihull.

Last Thursday’s full council meeting heard of the challenges facing Staffordshire’s social services, including recruitment of staff, and Councillor Edgeller shared her family’s experiences of social services in the early 1990s.

The Stafford representative fostered and later adopted Alex Cusworth, who had previously endured a horrific upbringing, when he was 12, but he continued to face challenges throughout his life. He was serving an eight-year sentence at Dartmoor Prison for attacking his landlord when he was murdered, at the age of 37, by a fellow inmate who stabbed him in the kitchens.

She said: “I wasn’t going to speak on this but I feel I have to, as a foster parent and an adoptive parent of a child who was in care and I have got to say, in all honesty, was failed by this county council. I want every councillor in this chamber to understand.

“He needed help, he didn’t get it straight away. In the end he lost his life because he never got the help and understanding as a child that he should have had.

“That anger and frustration for all the terrible things that happened to him was never dealt with and so that anger and frustration came out later in life. Somebody called him a paedophile. He wasn’t a paedophile, but he hit this man and was put in prison and he was murdered in prison in an abrupt attack.

“I want you all to understand please that we’ve got to do everything possible to look after our children. I’ve seen me down in Tipping Street, before I was on the council, banging on the desk saying ‘for God’s sake help me with my son please'.

Former council leader Philip Atkins said improvements had been made to children’s services in recent years.

He told the meeting: “When you’re the leader of the council, the buck stops with you. Every two weeks I would have a briefing on all the cases going on and an update on those that are ongoing. Some of the stories are horrific.

“Mike Lawrence, when he was the cabinet member for children’s services, inherited a poor, requiring improvement service. The backlog on cases was horrendous.

“But, with arduous work by children’s social workers, senior officers and Mike Lawrence, it moved round from being poor and requires improvement to being good and almost outstanding. A lot of hard work has to go into that, a lot of support for children’s social workers. They’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”

Councillor Ian Parry said: “I’m not sure that Ofsted ratings or process alone keeps children safe. I think it’s all about the professionalism of the people we must value the most – and yet we value them not as much.

“We must ask ourselves why there are so many vacancies for social care workers in children’s services. Why is it we can’t recruit enough people to do those jobs and why is it therefore that we give too much to those people to keep children safe?

“They say it takes a village to raise a child – this is not a problem that can be fixed by Government or councils alone. This is a societal problem.

“There is no system known to man that can prevent determined evil. These people scheme and avoid detection and observation.

“As society all of us have a responsibility to keep children safe. It’s our duty as adults to keep children safe and not abdicate responsibility to a council.

“When things go wrong people want people’s heads to roll and usually it’s the social workers involved, who’ve done their best making impossible decisions on a daily basis.

“This country is not a draconian society – we don’t step into people’s homes and snatch their children. We don’t poke our noses into people’s lives on a regular basis. This has to be done with care and sensitivity and with respect for people’s lives.

“Let’s not be complacent that we are an Ofsted good or outstanding. We are nothing until we keep every child safe and we must ensure that we as a society in Staffordshire plays our role in that.”

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