Fear of parents stopped professionals saving Ainlee

Ainlee Labonte

Fear of the parents of a toddler who died covered in cigarette
burns and weighing just 21 lbs, led professionals to “almost
paralysis in terms of action”, according to an independent review
of the case, writes Sally Gillen.

The report into agencies’ handling of the case of Ainlee
Labonte, who died 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 two-year-old’s parents.

Ainlee was also known as “Ainlee Walker”.

Leanne Labonte and Dennis Henry, who were jailed for 10 and 12
years respectively in September for manslaughter and cruelty, had
between them been banned from the housing office, 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 by a dietician and paediatrican, aged 31 weeks,
because her weight was dropping.

Leanne Labonte and Dennis Henry

Newham social services closed the case and referred it to the duty
team, despite pleas from a nurse that it be kept open, after
Labonte assured health professionals that she would attend check
ups, a promise that was not kept.

For months Labonte, who was herself the subject of an emergency
protection order aged 15, evaded agencies.

The review says that “the communication between agencies was not
constructive”, adding that there was a “failure to bring together
all the information known about a clearly 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 had lied
about having a health visitor – a visit was arranged for 4
January, but it was not kept and three days later Ainlee died.

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