Catalogue of agency flaws revealed in case of baby killed by his father

The death of an 11-week-old baby at the hands of his father could
have been avoided had every agency that dealt with the case not
been flawed “at almost every level”, according to an inquiry report
released last week.

Caleb Ness was admitted to hospital in October 2001 and pronounced
dead soon afterwards, having suffered a brain haemorrhage believed
to have been caused by shaking. An autopsy revealed 14 rib

His father Alexander Ness was jailed for 11 years in March after
admitting culpable homicide.

But a report commissioned by Edinburgh and Lothians Child
Protection Committee says Caleb, who had a condition that made him
more demanding than most babies, should never have been left
unsupervised in his parents’ care.

The report reveals that a child protection case conference that put
Caleb on the child protection register was chaired by a person who
had never done the job before and had received no training in how
to carry out the role. Other professionals “appeared to have had
very little knowledge of the roles expected of them” and no
detailed plan was agreed.

Social workers who dealt with the case are criticised for failing
to take into account the mother’s drug dependency and for
dismissing the fact that her two other children had been taken into
care although there had been no evidence of her lifestyle changing
since then.

They accepted at “face value” what Ness and Caleb’s mother Shirley
Malcolm told them and carried out no assessment of Ness, even
though he had a conviction for serious assault and had sustained a
brain injury six months before his son’s birth.

The report also criticises poor joint working and identifies “a
lack of proactive senior social work involvement in the assessment
of risk, in decision making and in ongoing supervision”.

Health agencies are condemned for their absence of clear
accountability within child protection and and the police for
failing to pass on vital information to other agencies.

The report makes 35 recommendations, including developing a clear
understanding between police and social workers about what
information should be shared before a case conference is held and
formal training for chairpersons of child protection case

The council plans to review its child protection procedures,
including those for all 342 children on its register, but expects
it will need more resources.

The conduct of the staff involved in the Caleb Ness case will also
be reviewed after calls for the resignation of social work director
Les McEwan. One member of staff has been suspended and three others
have been removed from child protection duties.

Senior social work officers were due to visit the Scottish
executive this week to explain to ministers what actions had been
taken since the report was published.

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