Fear of the parents of a toddler who died covered in cigarette
burns and weighing 21lb led professionals in Newham, East London,
to "almost paralysis in terms of action", according to an
independent review of the case released this week.
The report into agencies' handling of the case of Ainlee Labonte,
who died aged two from chronic abuse and neglect in January this
year, says "one by one the agencies withdrew from the family
because they feared for their personal safety".
Report author Helen Kenward, an expert in child protection,
concludes: "Ainlee was successfully isolated from those people who
could have protected her" by the child's parents.
Leanne Labonte and Dennis Henry, who were jailed for 10 and 12
years respectively in September for manslaughter and cruelty (news,
page 10, 26 September), had between them been banned from the
housing office, had assaulted a health visitor and stolen their
daughter's medical notes.
Health visitors and housing officers refused to carry out home
visits, but remained in contact by letter.
Ainlee was seen, aged 31 weeks, by a dietician and paediatrician
because her weight was dropping.
Newham social services, which had been dealing with the family,
closed the active case and responsibility passed to the duty team,
despite pleas from a nurse that it be kept open, after Labonte did
not keep promises to health professionals that she would attend
For months Labonte, who was herself the subject of an emergency
protection order aged 15, evaded agencies.
The review, commissioned by the area child protection committee,
says that "the communication between agencies was not
constructive", adding that there was a "failure to bring together
all the information known about a dangerous family".
It has recommended that training in the area of direct work with
dangerous families is given priority.
In August 2001, a social worker made a home visit but did not
examine Ainlee and "expressed no surprise" that she was sitting in
a high chair facing the wall as a punishment for throwing food.
Three months later a joint home visit by health and social services
was urged after it was discovered that Labonte lied about having a
health visitor. A visit was arranged for 4 January but the
appointment was not kept. Three days later Ainlee died.