Social workers could have prevented the rape of a nine-year-old disabled child by another child, according to a serious case review (SCR) published by the Sunderland local safeguarding children board.
Child X, 11, was arrested for sexual assault in 2009 following the incident in which he lured the disabled child into his room to play a computer game and then attacked him. He had entered the UK with his mother to claim asylum. The review revealed there had been a number of requests and referrals to children’s social care as well as the involvement of numerous agencies such as the police, health, education and child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs).
Child X had been in numerous private fostering arrangements and there was concern following the sudden death of his father, poor attachment with his mother and the witnessing of domestic violence. His mother and stepfather were known to substance misuse and mental health services but repeatedly missed appointments and failed to take medication. Throughout this period Child X’s behaviour was giving cause for concern.
“A number of referrals and requests for help with Child X were made to children’s services in several areas of the UK. During the latter years while Child X’s behaviour was escalating a number of requests were made by the family to children’s services to accommodate Child X.”
The review said in the period leading up to the incident Camhs had also repeatedly asked social workers to take the child into care “unfortunately these were not listened to or acted upon before a serious offence took place”.
Despite the number of agencies involved with the child, in this case it was the responsibility of children’s social care to take the lead professional role and co-ordinate services, the review authors said.
“Child X had significant difficulties; he was a child who was maltreated; he was a child with significant behavioural problems; he was in need of protection.”
Among the lessons needing to be learned from the case the SCR said qualified social workers needed to undertake assessments of children in need, and their assessments needed to be evidence-based, informed by historical information, inter-agency information and research – particularly in regard to the impact of parental mental health, parental alcohol and substance misuse and domestic violence.
It also recommended that Sunderland children’s services complete its review of the threshold criteria for children in need and child protection and have clear protocols around identifying a lead professional in all cases where children have inter-agency involvement.
Other lessons that needed to be learned included:
• The requirement for all appropriate practitioners to have a clear understanding of risk analysis, including ability to protect and parental capacity to change.
• The need to understand risks in relation to young people who sexually harm.
• The need for regular and reflective supervision.
• The need for robust inter-agency training to include adult services.
The council has said an action plan based on the lessons learned in the SCR has been drawn up.
The SCR also highlighted good practice in the case, saying the specialist health visitor, GP, school nurse and education social worker all undertook timely assessments following Child X’s arrival in Sunderland and the education social worker had developed a good rapport with the mother.
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