Review finds social services failings in case of missing girl feared dead

Social services failed to collect a teenage girl, who went missing
from her residential home and is now believed dead, because they
did not have enough staff, according to a serious case

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.

Three days after she went missing, she turned up briefly at her
mother’s house and was reported to have needle marks on her arms
and was being sick. But social services did not collect her,
despite being asked to do so by police. She then went missing and
police launched a missing person’s campaign. In September 2003 a
murder inquiry was opened.

The Northamptonshire area child protection committee report says
that no in-depth assessment of Sarah’s needs was carried out before
she went missing, despite problems with non-attendance at school
from the age of five, sexualised behaviour from an early age, and
alleged suicide attempts.

It also says that professionals had “insufficient resources,
overloaded systems, huge workloads and a lack of comprehensive

Recommendations in the review include child protection training for
all professionals including GPs and designated teachers. Training
should also 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.

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

It said that, in 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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