Social services and guardian criticised in Toni-Ann report

A social worker and a court-appointed children’s
guardian have been severely criticised for failing to protect a
seven-year-old girl who was shot dead in a London hostel last
September, writes Craig Kenny.

Toni-Ann Byfield, a looked-after child, was killed at the hostel
along with convicted drug dealer Bertram Byfield – a man who was
mistakenly believed to be her father.

A social worker from Birmingham Council failed to make enquiries
with the police or Brent Social Services about Byfield, which could
have revealed the extent of his criminal activity and lack of
commitment to parenting, a serious case review by Birmingham area
child protection committee concluded.

An inadequate assessment was also made of a woman known as ‘Ms
C’, who was given care of Toni-Ann in a kinship placement. She was
wrongly believed to be Toni-Ann’s aunt, and was in fact a
girlfriend of Byfield.

The children’s guardian, who was appointed by the Children
and Family Court Support and Advisory Service (Cafcass), also
failed in her duty to prioritise Toni-Ann’s welfare, the
review found. As the children’s guardian had received much
‘questionable evidence’ in favour of the kinship
placement, she should have adopted a more ‘challenging and
independent’ position, the review said.

A backlog of cases meant that Cafcass was unable to allocate a
guardian at the first court hearing in late 2002. As a result, the
guardian ‘never really fully engaged with the case’,
said the report. The review suggests that the decision to make the
unsuitable kinship placement with Ms C was a pragmatic one, because
delays in sorting out Toni-Ann’s immigration status had meant
that she could not take a foreign holiday with her foster

There is criticism in the review that a disclosure of historic
sexual abuse was not recorded or acted upon.

Birmingham Council said staff criticised in the report were not
currently taking decisions affecting children’s welfare.
Peter Hay, director of social care and health, said: ‘In the
light of today’s report we will now be further reviewing our

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