Neglect of five children not spotted by care agencies

Lack of communication between agencies led to a failure to spot neglect of five children by their parents, a serious case review for Sheffield Council published yesterday found.

Facts causing concern “were known singly and sometimes collectively to most of the services that knew the family, but their total impact on the welfare of the children was not thoroughly assessed or communicated between agencies,” says the report.

Neglect of two of the children was “life threatening” and the report says the review could “so easily” have been reviewing a child’s death rather than neglect.

Although the children’s father, David Askew, was known to social services as he had been in care, the family was not.

Child protection proceedings only began when two of the children were taken to hospital.

The report points out that Sheffield social services had limited involvement with the family and identifies only two areas where performance might have been improved. These are the failure to assess Askew’s parenting skills when the first child was born; and the lack of follow-up when the child was referred to social services by her school.

Other agencies are criticised more heavily in the report.

Family contact with health, early years and schools staff and the police failed to trigger intervention.

Askew was referred to mental health services for anxiety attacks but his assessment did not address any potential child protection issues.

The responsibility to identify the children being at risk lay primarily with education and health staff, the case review finds.

Report author Professor Pat Cantrill expresses concern at a culture among professionals of low expectations of parenting skills locally.

59 recommendations are made in the review including:

  • A need to review implementation of the government’s framework for assessment of children in need, and the common assessment framework in Sheffield, and nationally
  • A need to review inter-agency protocols and cross agency referrals in Sheffield

Alan Jones, chair of Sheffield’s area child protection committee, says that local services have already benefited from Cantrill’s advice:  “This has been an extremely distressing case for the whole of the child care community in Sheffield,” he said.

Jones welcomed the report’s recommendations and said the authority has already started to implement them. 

“However, professionals can only intervene to protect children if they are made aware that there is a risk of abuse or neglect.  We encourage members of the public to talk to us if they have any concerns about the safety of a child,” he said.

The five children were removed from their parents after being found in a state of neglect and needing medical attention and are now in foster care.  Askew and the children’s mother Sarah Whittaker are serving seven-year prison sentences after admitting child cruelty last year.

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