Social services fail teenager caught up in prostitution and drug use

Social services failed to collect a teenage girl who went
missing from her residential home because they did not have enough
staff, according to a serious case review, writes Sally

Sarah Benford, then 14, ran away from a residential unit in
Northampton in April 2000, seven months after she was placed there
under police protection for prostituting herself. She is now
believed to be dead.

Three days after she went missing, she turned up at her
mother’s house and was reported to have needle marks on her
arms and was being sick. But she was not collected, despite a
referral from the police, who then launched a local and national
missing person’s campaign.

In its report, the Northamptonshire Area Child Protection Committee
says there were several points at which Sarah could have been
identified as a child at risk but that no proper process was
undertaken to make sure this did not happen.

No in-depth assessment of her needs was carried out before she went
missing, despite problems with non-attendance of school from the
age of five, sexualised behaviour from an early age, and alleged
suicide attempts.

The report says that professionals were operating against a
“back cloth of insufficient resources, overloaded systems,
huge workloads and a lack of comprehensive procedures.”

Recommendations in the review, launched in May 2003, include child
protection training for all professionals including GPs and
designated teachers.

Training should be given to residential staff to help them in their
parenting role towards adolescents, focusing on issues such as
substance misuse and prostitution.

Better record keeping is also recommended after the review was
hampered by inadequate or missing information.

In a statement, Northampstonshire Council said it would be looking
at the report in full to ensure that it was doing everything
possible to protect children in its care.

It said that, in the light of this case, procedures in relation to
missing children had already been strengthened, extra resources
been made available to social work teams and children’s
homes, and joint working with the police and other agencies

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