‘Astonishing’ allegations: Hundreds of abuse reports made against adults caring for children in Sunderland

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TODAY the Echo can reveal 377 allegations of abuse were made against adults employed to care for children in Sunderland.

During the past two years, social workers, foster carers, health visitors and teachers were among those accused of everything from neglect to sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Allegations made against staff include:

•Associations with a known sex offender;

•Alleged grooming via a social networking site;

•Accusations of drug use;

•Alleged grooming via text message.

Between 2011/12 there were 213 allegations made to the city’s Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), however this fell to 164 for 2012/13.

There are currently 12 “live cases” ongoing from the last quarter of 2012/13. These include three were there is a police investigation into the alleged abuse.

One support worker in the city, who asked not to be named, said the figures, from Sunderland Safeguarding Children Board’s Annual Report, were “surprising” and “worrying”. He added: “I’m astonished at how many allegations have been made and I’m worried that, even though the figures have gone down in the past year, they are still much too high.

“These people are tasked with the care of our children and we should expect the highest standards from them.”

The largest category of reported abuse is “physical” which accounts for 48 per cent of the allegations.

Sunderland City Council’s LADO works within the city’s Children’s Services department. They must be alerted to all cases in which it is alleged that a person who works with children has behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed, a child; possibly committed a criminal offence against children; or behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they are unsuitable to work with children.

Jan Van Wagtendonk, chairman of Sunderland Safeguarding Children Board, said: “The role of the Local Authority Designated Officer is provide advice and guidance to employers and voluntary organisations with concerns about a person working or volunteering with children and young people who may have behaved inappropriately.

“This includes making sure any allegations against people working with children as employees, or in a voluntary capacity, are fully looked into and acted on.

“It will often involve liaising with the police and other agencies and depending on the findings could result in no action being taken due to an allegation being judged to be unfounded or malicious. Where appropriate it could also result in disciplinary action, a police investigation and/or a prosecution.

“In Sunderland the number of referrals to the Local Authority Designated Officer dropped by almost a quarter between 2012 and 2013. While the reasons for this are unclear, Sunderland Safeguarding Children’s Board continues to work to ensure that employers and the voluntary sector have a clearer idea of safe working practices and that robust recruitment procedures are in place to ensure the safeguarding and welfare of children across the city.”