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Police set to investigate allegations that young people in Highland Council-run care homes suffered bullying, violence, substance misuse and other child protection issues after a leading councillor said she was 'deeply troubled' by what she had heard

By Scott Maclennan

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Highland Council HQ in Inverness.
Highland Council HQ in Inverness.

REVELATIONS in the Courier about a crisis in children’s residential care have triggered a direct response from Highland Council as the matter looks set to be referred to Police Scotland for investigation.

The local authority admitted that a number of reviews are under way, as well as investigations involving whistleblowing, grievances and complaints.

The crisis in council-run care homes deepened amid revelations that those behind county lines and child sexual exploitation are targeting care experienced young people in the north.

Claims by care experienced young people involved allegations of bullying, violence, substance misuse and child protection concerns.

The council’s health, social care and wellbeing committee chairwoman Linda Munro said she was so “deeply troubled” by the allegation she will refer the matter to Police Scotland.

At today’s meeting of the committee, she said: “I am in the troubled, indeed deeply troubled, position of having a list that suggests that young people are experiencing harm, difficulty, and not where they should be in our care services.

“I don’t have any evidence and having been passed this list, I don’t know how many young people are involved, I don’t know the ages of the young people, whether they are still within the services or still in Highland – no matter.

“The fact is these allegations suggest that within our care all is not as it should be.

“I have taken advice, I have considered this matter, I have reconsidered this matter and this is my decision – at the conclusion of today’s committee I will be handing this list to Police Scotland.”

It is understood to be the second such referral for investigation to the police over the issue of the treatment of children in residential care.

Earlier, executive chief officer for health and social care Fiona Duncan told the committee: “At the suggestion of a child protection issue, contact should be made with Child Protection or the police and an investigation will then be pursued and any necessary action taken.

“If there is a potentially criminal matter, the police will investigate this thoroughly. Individuals can complain within Highland Council, or with independent bodies the Care Inspectorate or the Scottish Social Services Council, and that is about professional practice.”

She went on to say that “anyone presented with concerns should contact social work, or the police, who can investigate further” and admitted that the council was also investigating the issue.

“Due to confidentiality and not wanting to interfere with process, I cannot go into detail,” she said. “I can confirm a number of processes have commenced. These include – whistle-blowing, an independent process; the grievance procedure; and the complaints procedure.

“Two independent reviews have commenced. The first involves two external social work professionals being commissioned to engage with staff and practice within children’s services.

“The second involves an independent and very experienced senior social work manager who is assessing and reviewing residential services over a six-month period.

“In discussion with our independent chair of the child protection committee (CPC), we have agreed that a report will go to the committee on conclusion of the reviews.

“The CPC is responsible for multi-agency child protection policy procedure, guidance and practice. If any action is required to improve practice or service delivery, this will be stated by the CPC.”

Related Story – Care crisis deepens as Highland Council admits young being targeted by County Lines drug gangs and at risk of child sexual exploitation with senior councillors now calling for a full independent investigation

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