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.