Baby P case remembered as Sefton child workers fail to stop Baby's death


CHILD protection workers failed to prevent the death of a vulnerable three-month-old Baby girl who died in the care of her drug addict parents.

Despite concerns being raised by a midwife and health visitors she was left living with her mum and dad who had a staggering 150 drug convictions between them.

The Baby was found dead on the couple’s sofa after spending the night sleeping next to her mother.

A report into her death came to light as Sefton Children’s Social Care department undergoes “urgent cultural changes” in a bid to improve the way it looks after the borough’s most at-risk children.

The department began a shake-up early last year. In March 2008, its fostering service was branded “inadequate” bv OFSTED.

Now social workers are facing more back-to-basics-training to emphasise the need for rigorous information gathering and prompt sharing of facts.

Child A died late in 2005 following a drug binge by her mother. Months before – during pregnancy and throughout her short life – concerns about her wellbeing were raised

But tragically, no one acted.

The midwife was the first to attempt to raise the alarm. She knew of the parents’ drug use and requested a “pre-birth assessment”.

And during her two-week stay on the maternity ward the midwife saw the mother fall asleep six times while feeding or holding her Baby.

These concerns did prompt referrals and assessments by Children’s Social Services.

But they concluded there were “no child protection concerns”.

After returning to their one-bedroom flat incidents with Child A’s teenage half-sister and issues registering the family with a doctor led to more assessments. But again no action was taken and the infant was said to be “progressing well”.

On the night of her death Child A was put to sleep on one end of a small sofa she shared with her mother. The next morning she was found pale and still.

An inquest into the Baby girl's death recorded an open verdict.

Because she could have been smothered by her mother a police investigation was launched but no charges were ever brought.

The report criticises the communication between agencies as “at best, mixed”. Although repeated “initial assessments” were carried out there was never a “core assessment” or a meeting of all the key agencies. This left just a “patchy picture” of the facts.

Even though Child A’s mother struggled bringing up the Baby's half-sister questions were not followed up about the her ability as a parent.

And despite Child A needing the highest available dose of methadone to cope with a heroin addiction inherited from her mother, the authorities still had a “confused picture” about the levels of drug use in her home, with some assessors recording the couple had “low” or “managed” needs.

The report concludes: “In short, the assessments were poorly performed; they relied on optimistic accounts from parents and did not focus on the very particular needs of the infant.

“Whilst a fuller assessment and the use of a multi-agency meeting might not have changed the course of events, they almost certainly would have provided a more informed and more robust platform for the planning, support, supervision and safeguards that would have followed.”

Sefton’s Cllr Richard Hands, who chairs the children’s services overview and scrutiny committee that recently saw the report, expressed his “concern” that the case took so long to come to light.

But he said preparing and writing the report itself was hit by delays. The first independent writer of the report was forced to drop out part way through.

Cllr Hands added: “Some of the agencies that we used were slow to get information back but since then they’ve tightened up on their procedures.”

Urgent call for change

CHILDREN in dire need of help have been let down by a crucial Sefton Council department, another damning internal report reveals.

Since the death of Baby P last year and a scathing OFSTED report into its “inadequate” fostering service, the borough’s children’s social care department started trying to improve.

But after obtaining a frank and devastating self-assessment, the ECHO can for the first time reveal how close to the brink the department was.

It struggled with workplace bullying, was paralysed by a structure that made doing its job harder and suffered with high staff turnover.

The report says no evidence was found to suggest individual children were unsafe.

But it said there is an “urgent need for cultural change” in the department.

It also said a number of children’s cases were allowed to “drift”, which was “unacceptable” and brought the department “to the attention of more than one High Court Judge”.

The quality of children’s care planning and assessment was also “inconsistent”.

The department’s Litherland office was also hit with “weaknesses” including claims of bullying.

An 18-month overhaul of the service was started in January and top-level directors have been recruited.

THE ECHO