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
    review.

    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
    procedures”.

    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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