Professionals under fire as parents found guilty of beating disabled girl

Child protection professionals have been criticised for their handling of a case involving a four year old disabled girl from west London who was subjected to “sustained cruelty” by her parents.

Child B, who has cerebral palsy, was admitted to hospital in March 2006 with extensive bruising to her groin and buttocks and burns to hands. She was hungry, thirsty and suffering from neglect.

Her parents, Kimberley Harte and Samuel Duncan, were found guilty of grievous bodily harm with intent in December, having earlier admitting child cruelty. They were due to be sentenced tomorrow (Thursday) at Middlesex Crown Court in London.

According to a serious case review by Westminster Local Safeguarding Children Board, the physical abuse, which began a month after B and her brother had been returned to their parents’ care, could not have been predicted.

Professionals in social care and health as well as the police are cleared of individual errors or poor practice and took their responsibilities seriously, the report says.

But they are criticised for being too parent-focused and failing to give enough attention to Harte and Duncan’s parental attributes.

B and her sibling had been placed in care because of concerns over domestic violence. Their foster carers noted distress in the children before and after contact sessions and opposed rehabilitation. But professionals were near unanimous in wanting to reunite the family.

The report says it was “especially concerning” that the two children were not seen on their own, particularly after their return home to the care of their parents.

Five times, Child B was said to be out with her father when a professional visited the home. And only minimal contact was made with the father at this time.

The report makes a number of recommendations including communicating directly with children and incorporating the views of foster carers.

Mor Dioum, a spokesperson for the Victoria Climbié Foundation, said: “The fact that professionals could not get in touch with the children should have raised serious concerns about Child B’s well-being.”

Westminster: Staff could not have foreseen injuries
Westminster Council chief executive and director of children’s services Julie Jones said: “Everyone who had dealings with the family will inevitably consider whether they could have done anything differently, which may have altered the deeply regrettable outcome. It is clear that those staff who saw the child and her family could not have foreseen the injuries she sustained.”

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Sally Gillen

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