A director of the social services department responsible
for handling the case of a two-year-old who died after being
starved and beaten by her parents, has admitted poor practice,
writes Sally Gillen.
Speaking after Ainlee Walker’s parents were found guilty at the
Old Bailey of her manslaughter and jailed for a total of 22 years,
Kathryn Hudson said: “It is no secret that the department has been
criticised in the past for poor professional practice.”
But she added that no-one would face disciplinary action over
Newham social services was on special measures at the time
Ainlee died in January, but received one star in the performance
ratings published in May despite having uncertain prospects for its
children’s services. Hudson said the department had made
improvements within the past 18 months, and that she regretted that
the shift in practice had “not made a difference in this case”.
During the trial of Labonte and Henry it emerged that the
police, who were called to the couple’s flat 16 times because
of domestic violence, health workers and social services had failed
to share information on the pair.
An independent investigation now underway, which will be
published in November, is likely to look at poor communication
between the agencies, and why letters sent to social services by a
child protection nurse pleading for Ainlee’s case to be kept
open, received no response. It will also seek an answer as to why a
home visit arranged three days before Ainlee’s death was not
Social services had opened a case on the family after concerns
that Ainlee, who weighed just 21lbs when she died, was not gaining
weight. Two months previously a case file on Ainlee’s older brother
was closed. He had been placed on the child protection register,
after Labonte left him alone in a bed and breakfast.
Hudson, who has been director at Newham since January last year,
told Community Care that the case was closed because
social services had received assurances from a paediatrician that
Ainlee was now gaining weight, and her parents had agreed to keep
regular appointments with the hospital.
“Clearly people within health had different information and we
were not aware of that,” she said.
She added: “We knew Ainlee was failing to thrive, but there was
nothing to suggest she was being abused at home.”
But Labonte was able to hide the 60 cigarette burns, pinches and
scalds that scarred Ainlee’s body from the authorities by
lying to her social worker about seeing a health visitor.
Hudson said Labonte had deliberately misled her social worker
about seeing a health visitor by saying that she had arranged to
see another one through her GP rather than one allocated by the
hospital, a lie that the social worker took four months to
Consequently, no professionals saw Ainlee in the five months
leading up to her death. Social services will now find foster
carers for Ainlee’s two older brothers.
Ainlee’s real surname was ‘Labonte’, but her mother changed her
name to deceive the authorities.