THE welfare of vulnerable young children in Clackmannanshire is being put at risk by failings in social work services.

That is the view of two prominent solicitors after a damning judgment by the court in relation to the care of a child.

Alloa Sheriff David Mackie said there had been a "dereliction of statutory duty" by the local authority to safeguard the child's welfare.

He referred to a culture of poor record-keeping "at all levels" in the department and an absence of a "rehabilitation plan" for parents.

His judgment was made in a case involving the removal of children, after another judge had already criticised the council in a previous appeal.

Now solicitor Eva Comrie, a specialist in child law, has written to the Care Inspectorate and Minister for Children & Young People urging further investigation.

Sheriff Mackie made his findings in June this year, yet just four months later Clackmannanshire Council released a press statement saying a recent Care Inspectorate report praised social work services.

Ms Comrie told the Advertiser, "The major concern is that the social work department did mislead the Children's Hearing and the court but also the main issue is whether they have deceived and withheld relevant information from the statutory inspection agency." The local authority has since launched an independent review of practices and procedures in child care.

Fellow solicitor Jim Savage said, "The fundamental thing here is when children are taken into care, part of the care process is a rehabilitation plan.

"The presumption always is that the children will go back to the parents. They've got to tell the parents what the plan is and give them the skills and help to see it through." In the letter to the Inspectorate Ms Comrie states that the sheriff found references to planning for rehabilitation "misleading" adding, "there was simply no definitive plan".

It was found social workers were not writing up important notes of contact visits, visits to parents or to foster carers.

In some cases they had only been written shortly in advance of court dates - sometimes years after the actual events - and these were described as "lazy, inaccurate, cryptic, and subjective" by the sheriff. He added that it amounted to a "self serving dishonesty" among practitioners and a "highly discreditable disregard" for the interests of the child.

Ms Comrie said, "Social workers have failed to keep accurate case records including notes of meetings though there is a statutory requirement to have a paper trail because of the need for openness and accountability." Difficulties in a child's foster placement were also not flagged up.

Ms Comrie said that it had been reported to the Children's Panel by the social worker that the child was "happy, settled and well looked after" when in reality the child had began displaying disturbing psychological problems including worrying tendencies which could put the child at serious risk of harm.

Mr Savage said, "Ultimately we could have a Baby P issue here and we are saying that children have come to serious harm already. They may not be bleeding and lying on the floor injured but the injuries are there." Baby P was an 17-month old boy who died in London after suffering more than 50 injuries over an eight-month period, during which he was repeatedly seen by care professionals.

Clackmannanshire Council Chief Executive Elaine McPherson said, "It would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases or ongoing court proceedings.

"We take child care issues extremely seriously and it is one of our highest priorities as an authority.

"Accordingly, the council is working with the British Association for Adoption & Fostering to improve its services to children and an independent review of practices and procedures in this area of work will be undertaken." Ms Comrie's letter to the Care Inspectorate comes just weeks before its most recent report of Clackmannanshire Council is published.

The local authority announced in October that the report praised services provided to older people, vulnerable children, people with mental health problems and adults with learning disabilities and described the department's leadership as "good" with a clear vision statement for the service.

Inspectors carried out an assessment of social work services between September 2010 and June 2011 and found that 96 per cent of the case files they read contained evidence of positive outcomes for people using social work services.

The report is expected to come before the council's Scrutiny Committee next month.