A man with a history of violence is accused by his partner’s elder daughter of hurting her and rejects services. Our panel advises
The names of the service users have been changed
SITUATION: Robina Baker, 27, has a one-year-old daughter, Selina, with her live-in partner Dave Mulligan, 22. Baker has another child, Cara, aged seven, from her (now dissolved) marriage. Mulligan was placed in care when he was 11 having suffered physical and sexual abuse while living with his grandparents. He was moved 34 times in his care career – often being aggressive and violent. Baker, as with her mother, was a victim of domestic abuse – her husband leaving her following the birth of Cara.
PROBLEM: Recently Cara had said at school that Mulligan had been hurting her and taunting her about her father. She said he had hit her with a glass ashtray on her arm to make her “shut up crying”. There was a lot of bruising on her arm. A social worker, a Christian, visited but left because of Mulligan’s verbal aggression and blasphemy. She said that the place was a “tip”. A male worker called when Mulligan was out. He thought the home untidy but homely. Baker said she was shocked at the bruising but believed Mulligan who said that he was chasing Cara and she ran into a door – hitting the brass handle. She admitted that Mulligan has problems with social services and the two girls (because he knew and hated their father). She also said that she thought Cara was jealous of Mulligan doting on Selina.
Panel responses – Warrington Council, social services and housing department
Should there be suspicions or allegations about child maltreatment the various agencies must come together and have discussion on strategy. This will involve the police and the child protection team. If they decide that enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 should be instigated, a core assessment should then take place. In all assessments and investigations the child must be seen and spoken to within the set timescales set out in current government guidelines.
The police may decide to start their own investigations to find out whether a criminal act has been committed. A child protection medical should be completed by a paediatrician when there has been an allegation of physical harm. This should inform us whether the injury is consistent with the explanation given by the child or the alleged perpetrator and would be crucial in determining the risk assessment and whether Dave Mulligan should remain at home while the assessment is completed.
Past and recent information suggests that Mulligan can become aggressive and violent. Both adults have experienced difficulties in the past. Mulligan was physically and sexually abused while in the care of his grandparents. He was also placed in the care system and experienced many moves during this time.
All of this may account for his initial response to social services. The difficulties that both adults have experienced need to be recognised within the enquiry and assessment in order to work sensitively with them. However, this information would also inform the enquiry and the assessment in order to establish their ability to parent and protect the children.
Ideally, making sense of a family’s situation within these circumstances is completed with the family’s consent and assistance.
However, if this is not possible and should the adults refuse to co-operate with the local authority, then discussions may take place with senior management and legal department as to whether a legal order is necessary.
On conclusion of the enquiry and core assessment, a decision would be made concerning the risk to the children and if child protection registration and a child protection plan is required.
The local authority should immediately implement a core assessment to establish factual information, areas of concern and level of support while highlighting recommendations in order to provide crisis or preventative intervention or both. There needs to be an immediate decision whether the children are at risk and what strategies need to be in place during the completion of the core assessment.
Further discussions need to involve the child and school preferably with the class teacher to gather information to find out Cara’s wishes and feelings and how she interacts with peers and adults. No assumption should be made that the school has informed social services of any previous incidents.
The strategy meeting should involve health, social services, police, school and the social worker previously involved with Mulligan which should run concurrent to the core assessment. This will enable services to provide immediate support within a multi-disciplinary framework while providing evidence of any previous departmental work or involvement which may assist the assessment.
Mulligan’s aggression and violence, which was evidenced from his episodes in care, should warrant a risk assessment. The NSPCC, for example, could facilitate this work. This independent service would offer an objective assessment given his previous difficulties engaging with statutory services. It remains debatable whether Mulligan should remain within the family home throughout this process.
Continuous monitoring of the family will be necessary regardless of whether Mulligan returns to the family home to ensure any agreed approach or planned work is being implemented. Awareness that Baker could be subject to domestic violence and oppression from her partner needs to be investigated and included into any planned work.
The lead agency should ensure that Baker and Mulligan are aware of the professionals’ roles and their responsibilities, thus encouraging partnership and co-operation. Baker should be offered every assistance and opportunity in providing a safe environment for the children, including attending protection and awareness courses.
Selina and Cara are definitely at significant risk, particularly emotionally, writes Mark Houston.
The abuse that Mulligan and Baker experienced has almost certainly caused some deep-rooted problems. We must remember that both Baker and Mulligan had troubled childhoods and did not have a stable upbringing. They will need more support with parenting than most people. Bearing in mind Mulligan’s difficulties with social services, a lot of this extra support may be best provided by agencies independent of the local authority.
At this stage, we have no reason to disbelieve Cara and so her claims must be looked into seriously. However, it is important that professionals also listen to what Mulligan and Baker say. They must demonstrate that they are working with rather than against them. If Cara’s claims are untrue, then the fact she is making things up indicates that she is suffering emotionally and that would need to be addressed. Moreover, we know that Mulligan’s relationship with Cara is not good, which is a signal that the difficulties Cara is having are likely to continue.
It seems there was a personality clash between Mulligan and the initial social worker and so it would seem appropriate to change social worker. The appearance of the home is not the main indicator of the children’s well-being. It is more important to focus on how comfortable the children feel in the house and how they relate to Baker and Mulligan.
Cara is obviously able to confide in her teachers and this is very positive. It would make sense for the staff at her school to take on the role of talking to her at length about the difficulties she is facing. With Cara’s consent, they should then share this information with the social worker. In particular, Cara’s teachers should be asking Cara what she would like to happen in the short and long-term.
If Cara is telling the truth about being abused, then both Cara and Selina must be separated from Mulligan. Nevertheless, it is important that Baker is encouraged to maintain contact with her children and allowed unsupervised access to them. It is important that Cara is able to stay at the same school and is able to maintain close contact with her friends.
Of course Selina’s welfare is equally important. Since she is only one-year-old, she does not see professionals away from Baker and Mulligan and so it would be harder for professionals to pick up on any signs of difficulties. For this reason, professionals must make particular efforts to monitor her progress.
Mark Houston is a care leaver