Council must pay compensation for ‘poor service’ to girl left in squalor

A girl of five was left amid “unspeakable filth and neglect” for
two years because social workers assumed that her father’s concerns
were motivated by a custody battle, a watchdog has found.

When police eventually broke down the door of her flat they found
it littered with bags of rotting rubbish, smashed doors and an
unguarded makeshift heat source, says a report by the Local
Government Ombudsman.

A social worker later commented that “conditions were so bad that
she expected to find everyone dead”.

The father, who cannot be named, alerted Manchester social services
in 1996 after making an access visit to his daughter who was living
with his former partner.

He reported that the flat was filled with fungus-encrusted crockery
and used condoms, and that there was no food.

Social workers made several attempts to visit the flat without
success. A health visitor, school nurse and the educational welfare
service were also unable to make assessments and expressed their
concerns to social services.

But social workers repeatedly closed the case files because, a
principal manager in the children and families team later admitted,
of an “unquestioning acceptance” of the mother’s claims that the
girl’s father had been violent and an assumption that his
complaints were motivated by a custody dispute.

In early 1998 the flat was found to be clean and tidy on a
pre-arranged visit by social workers and police child protection

But rising concerns led to the door being broken down in early
1999, when the girl was taken into her father’s custody. The girl
later revealed that she had been sexually abused while left in the
care of a friend of her mother.

Finding maladministration causing injustice, the ombudsman ordered
Manchester Council to pay £8,000 compensation to the girl and
her father.

Pauline Newman, Manchester’s director of social services, said the
council regretted the poor practice and apologised to the pair.

She added that the new multi-agency national framework for
assessment made it unlikely that a failure to assess properly would
occur again.

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