Confusion over child protection thresholds prevented action in neglect case, finds SCR

Parents known to social services for over 16 years found guilty of criminal neglect- but no child protection plan was in place

Confusion over child protection thresholds stopped social workers intervening in the case of parents charged with criminal neglect, the serious case review has found.

A three year old girl from Gloucestershire was admitted to hospital in November 2012 with a number of health and developmental concerns relating to neglect, including malnutrition, anaemia, severe nappy rash, weak bones and a head lice infestation. She had not begun to walk.

An incident by incident approach  meant workers never escalated the case from a ‘child in need’ onto a child protection plan.

A report by a health visitor stated: “regularly the house was noted to be dirty, untidy and smelling of faeces.”

The SCR found that a child protection conference between all agencies involved with the girl, Abigail, and her siblings, would have enabled smaller incidents  of neglect to be seen together, but it did not take place because the case was not deemed to meet the threshold.

Kathy O’Mahony, operations director of safeguarding and care at Gloucestershire Council told local reporters that, because the neglect  was not seen as reaching the child protection threshold, workers were confused over what information could be shared.

“Neglect is a really difficult area. This case has helped us to understand the impact of negligence. We did not say early enough that this was a child protection issue,” she told the Gloucestershire Echo.

Gary Walker, a solicitor at law firm Foot Anstey specialising in child abuse cases said  cumulative neglect was as serious as abuse.

“One of the key learning points for all the organisations involved is that chronic long-term neglect and a cumulative lack of action can be just as harmful to children as sexual or physical abuse.

“If we are going to avoid this happening in the future, we need constant monitoring of these neglect issues by the authorities, combined with the appropriate training of employees so that they know how to recognise the signs of cumulative neglect ,” he said.

The serious case review found “one of the most concerning issues in this case is the apparent lack of understanding of neglect and its impact by a number of the key professionals working with this family.”

The review defines neglect as “the persistent failure to meet child’s basic physical or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development,” and underlined that Abigail’s well-being was being impaired by the health problems and developmental delays she experienced as a result of neglect.

A better understanding of and the limitation of an incident led approach to child neglect would have allowed social workers to escalate the case faster, the review said.

The children are now all in foster care or the care of suitable family members.


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4 Responses to Confusion over child protection thresholds prevented action in neglect case, finds SCR

  1. g hall November 13, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Clearly the social services should have taken action here but the article is explicit that health workers had concerns about the health of this child. As it is only “Social Workers” who are identified as failing am I to infer that all the other agencies were powerless to take any action? Was health not able to call a child protection conference? In my area anybody can call a safeguarding meeting is this not the case in Gloucestershire?

    • Paula November 14, 2014 at 8:32 am #

      It is always the social worker who has to take the blame despite other agencies being involved.

  2. Philip Measures November 13, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    It is a fact that any other professional can insist that a Child Protection Conference take place – others must also accept the fact that they have a professional responsibility to protect children and young people and if not satisfied that Social Services are taking concerns seriously enough they need to ‘force’ the issue. It may not feel comfortable but this Serious Case Review clearly indicates that if all agencies had pooled their information things would have taken a very different course.

  3. B Nation November 20, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    With the lack of funding, social workers can not expect to handle all cases in the biological family. Severe abuse doesnt just happen in the Bio family environment. One case in particular of a mother just needing respite, ended with her child in the care system under the threshold of probability to harm. That child remained in foster placements and during this cared for accomodation the child was sexually abused by another child being cared for. So how much time can social work give to every issue being reported. Severe harm ie sexual/physical abuse is a justification for a criminal court proceeding. Mental health should be controlled by professionals in that field. All lesser issues are turned arounds by the Community,schools nurses etc, rather that condemn parents and looking down on them because they did not know. Get together and produce the UK Booklet on parenting. With Techniques, resolutions and actions made by the state. Hand this booklet to ALL parents, whether new, visiting or existing parents. So that before a social worker handles a case, they can be assured that the parents knew the preferred methods and actions prior to an unannounced visit by staff members.