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
    Gillen
    .

    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
    improved.

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