A serious case review sparked by the death of two-month-old Rhys Biggs found a series of failings at care agencies in the London boroughs of Camden and Newham, it was revealed yesterday.
The review, which was completed in November 2006, was published after the conviction this week of Rhys’s mother, Claire Biggs, for child cruelty, and her partner, Paul Husband, for child neglect.
A post-mortem revealed a number of injuries had been inflicted on Rhys, including 12 broken ribs, but it could not be established whether these caused his death in May 2006.
History of domestic violence
The SCR found that Biggs, who was 24 at the time of Rhys’s death, had a history of domestic violence, substance misuse and homelessness, and also had a mild learning disability. She had also had her first child taken into care.
She came to the attention of Camden children’s services in September 2005 when pregnant with Rhys, and living at a Women’s Aid refuge in the borough. The review criticised social workers for being “overly optimistic” in Biggs’ ability to look after her child, a key part of their decision not to trigger an initial child protection conference.
It said agencies’ experience of the links between domestic violence and child abuse should have suggested “a more cautious approach”.
The review also said that her learning disability – and its likely impact on her parenting capacity should have been “comprehensively assessed”.
The SCR also said that a failure to carry out a police background check on Husband, with whom Biggs began a relationship in December 2005, had been “a significant error”, as the case would have been handled differently as a result.
When the case was transferred to Newham children’s services, after Biggs moved there in April 2005, a month after Rhys was born, the department was not informed of the relationship with Husband, who lived in the borough. A social worker was allocated without delay but, because of other priorities, did not see the family before Rhys’s death, a month later.
The SCR found information sharing on Biggs’ situation was initially good but then deteriorated and said that agencies “were not working well together” by the time Rhys was born.
Women’s Aid criticised
It also criticised Women’s Aid staff in Camden for not keeping Biggs’ social worker informed about her repeated absences from the refuge.
The review called for Newham and Camden safeguarding children boards to ensure safeguarding arrangements take account of the “enduring connection between domestic violence and child abuse”, and arrangements for the assessment and support of parents with learning disabilities.
Speaking on behalf of all the agencies involved, Newham Council’s director of children’s services, Kim Bromley-Derry, said that the review had identified a number of areas for improvement.
No evidence death could have been anticipated
He said: “It also found no evidence that the tragic death of Rhys could reasonably have been anticipated by the agencies involved.
“We have taken all the necessary steps to implement the recommendations made by the review. We want to continue to learn from this incident and now that the case has finished, we will review action plans again to identify any further areas for improvement or action.”