Social workers failed to monitor the circumstances of a direct payments user who was murdered by his son, a serious case review has found.
Mark Alexander was convicted of his father Samuel’s murder last September, seven months after the latter’s body was found under concrete in his back garden.
Samuel Alexander, 70, received little more “than a passive and remote degree of social work oversight” from Buckinghamshire Council and little was known about his circumstances or the amount of care his son was providing, the SCR found.
The SCR found his care plan was subject to a “light-touch” review process “captured via vague and arms-length recording” and that he did not have any sustained person-to-person contact with an experienced and qualified social worker.
This was despite him being a “complex” individual with an array of health needs who engaged only intermittently with adult social care and health professionals.
No assessment was made of Mark Alexander as a carer and no checks were made into how he was maintaining his university studies and caring duties, despite observations by Samuel Alexander’s GP that he had a bullying manner towards his son.
Key biographical information – including how Samuel came to have sole custody of Mark after the break-up of his marriage and the fact that he had two names, one of which was North African – were not uncovered by adult care staff.
Though it was known that Samuel Alexander refused entry to some professionals, no risk assessments were not made of the impact of this.
It was an “unchecked presumption” that he had four personal assistants to support him, though the SCR found little paperwork to support this and suggested he may have fraudulently secured direct payments having given incomplete information about his income and his son’s caring role.
The review raised concerns about the council’s processes for managing direct payments. It said that social workers promoted access to direct payments “without professional challenge as to need, appropriateness or outcome” and that “their role appeared to be reduced to that of administrative approval”.
It criticised Buckinghamshire’s framework of monitoring and reviewing processes of direct payments as overburdened with a team of six to support 700 direct payments recipients.
The report said this lack of scrutiny reflected “naivety regarding potential problems in the delivery of direct payments” and that it raised questions over how Buckinghamshire anticipated monitoring and reviewing many more people.
“This serious case review highlights major shortcomings in the oversight of public funds by Buckinghamshire adult social care,” concluded the report, “although direct payments recipients can be offered considerable flexibility in what they want to purchase, the local authority still has a duty to ensure that the money is spent for the purpose intended.”
The SCR’s recommendations included for the council to review the deployment of staff to assess and review care packages for frail older people to ensure sufficient oversight from social workers.
It said practitioners needed to carry out regular risk assessments of frail older people using direct payments and that the council should commission a direct payment support service to collect information on the employment of personal assistants by users.
In response, a spokesperson for Buckinghamshire Council said more checks were introduced for new direct payment recipients in 2009-10. “The report refers to an ‘overburdened system’, an area we have addressed,” she said.
“In addition, as a matter of urgency we have employed a further five members of staff in our safeguarding teams. Lessons have been, and will continue, to be learned from this case, but we would stress that for the overwhelming majority of clients, direct payments are a valid and appropriate way of giving service users’ choice over their care and we should not allow this one exception to cloud the benefits of the system.”
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails