EXCLUSIVE: Children in foster care could be at “huge risk” of sexual assault due to police failures to share information, Hackney’s child safeguarding chief has warned.
His remarks follow a damning report on how a foster father was able to rape and assault five schoolgirls in his care despite historic allegations – which were not investigated – of having shown child abuse images to children.
Jim Gamble, independent chair of the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board, speaking exclusively to the Citizen, said there could “definitely” be children in Hackney and across the country being “tucked into bed” by foster carers who are a risk to children.
He said: “Do I think there could be people in safeguarding roles across the country that do represent a risk to children with police files on them that haven’t been investigated? Yes. I do. I would say yes. Definitely.”
A serious case review by Hackney’s safeguarding board found police had failed on four occasions to make Hackney Council aware of an anonymous child abuse allegation in 1999 against a man applying to become a foster parent.
The man went on to foster 30 children over 14 years with his wife, before discovery of his having raped and sexually assaulted five schoolgirls in his care between 1998 and 2005. He was jailed in 2013.
Mr Gamble told the Citizen the current system is “not fit for purpose” and that he has asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to review its policies on sharing information with foster services.
But the NPCC confirmed it will not be reviewing its policies, which it says are in line with Home Office guidance and the law.
Mr Gamble said children in Hackney and across the country could be living with foster carers with allegations of child abuse offences against them.
“The fact is, had the police shared this information at any of the four occasions when they had the opportunity to, I think some of the children if not all of them would not have suffered the abuse that they did,” he said.
“I have asked [the NPCC] to review this and they have said there’s no need to review it, and they would do the same thing again.
“We need a system that would put protection of children before the protection of information. These checks are done to make sure children are safe. That’s why we do these measures.
“There’s no guarantee that there are not children all over the country with people who have information against them that has not been properly considered.
“These are the people tucking children into bed at night. I don’t think any parent who reads your newspaper would think this is good enough.”
He added: “I have no doubt that the vast majority of foster carers are fabulous people doing a hard job. In Hackney we have some fantastic carers who are giving up their time and sharing their homes with young children to help them in their lives.
“Most of the fantastic carers would want to know that these allegations had been checked.”
Assistant Chief Constable David Pryde, the NPCC’s lead on recording and disclosure of convictions, said information “not supported by a conviction, caution or formal warning” could be made available during a vetting process, but to the potential foster parent, not to the council’s foster services.
He said: “A comprehensive framework is applied to this decision making process to ensure it is balanced, fair and proportionate to the applicant while protecting vulnerable people.
“This framework has been challenged, validated and supported by the courts.
“Information that is historic, uncorroborated, anonymous or inaccurate would not meet the threshold for disclosure.
“To make a disclosure in such circumstances would be contrary to the current guidelines and law.”
The NPCC declined to comment on Mr Gamble’s assertion about the risks of further child abuse in foster care under the current system.