Murdered girl failed by social services due to high thresholds

Tia Rigg, a 12-year-old murdered in Manchester, was failed by Salford social services in part because child protection thresholds in the council were too high, according to a serious case review.

Tia was 12 when John Madon, 38, brought her to his home on the pretence of wanting her to babysit his daughter. Madon killed Tia and then phoned police to tell them he had done so. Tia had been the subject of a child protection plan in a number of local authorities and had suffered abuse and neglect.

“There were indications throughout this SCR that thresholds for robust child protection interventions were too high and that decision-making about levels of risk was poor,” the report said.

The case exhibited a number of similar issues that have also emerged from Community Care’s survey of frontline workers about child protection thresholds. In the survey social workers warned they are being forced by managers to take high risk decisions about children at significant risk of harm because of ongoing budget cuts.

There is no evidence that budgets were a factor within the Rigg case but the SCR criticised social workers who moved Tia back in with her mother – despite little change in her behaviour – following a conflict between the child and the extended family who were looking after her while her mother was undergoing drug treatment. The move was supposed to be a temporary emergency measure, but became permanent.

Social workers have told Community Care’s survey that managers are forcing the return of children in care to birth parents despite little change in the assessment of risk, because of the need to reduce the cost of the numbers of children in care.

The review stated: “In particular, the decision to allow Child H and her siblings to return to their mother’s care in 2008 and 2009 was not based on any firm evidence that there had been a substantial change in Adult A’s capacity to care for the children. Similarly, the decision to discontinue the Child Protection plans in May 2009 was based on the false premise that Adult A’s parenting had improved and that she was cooperating with plans. There was also a failure by agencies to challenge these overoptimistic plans.”

The review concluded that Tia’s murder could not have been foreseen by social workers or the child’s family, but that the ongoing harm Tia suffered before she died could have been prevented.

It has recommended that the local safeguarding children board review thresholds adopted by agencies for child protection interventions, including those used in strategy meetings. An audit of threshold activity should be reported to the LSCB and any remedial action required should be prioritised.

The SCR also flagged up that services also had no knowledge of the presence of Madon in Tia’s life – only the GP who submitted evidence to the review was aware of Madon’s existence.

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