Social workers could “enhance” their assessments of families by using social media, a serious case review has said.
The review into the death of a two-year-old boy said: “Checks on the internet and social media can provide publicly available information about lifestyle and relationships to inform assessments.”
The review cited the example of an “exorcism video” of the boy’s mother being found by the press after his death, which it said could have been found by an internet search during work with the family.
It said these kind of searches, including on social media, “in other cases could, for example, contradict denials of contact with dangerous ex-partners”.
“When conducting assessments and reassessments of vulnerable families, practitioners may find that including internet and social media checks would enhance and triangulate information given by parents,” it said.
The serious case review said identifying the video while working with the family “could have provided an opportunity to reflect on whether there were any potential implications” for the child.
“Practitioners told reviewers that they do not do checks routinely on the internet or in social media. Some services make such checks on social media for specific reasons ([No Recourse to Public Fund Teams] for fraud, and [Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs] for concerns relating to social media, both via specific accounts to overcome standard prohibitions on work computers),” the review said.
It recommended the safeguarding boards involved: “Consider how best to enable practitioners to access and use relevant internet and public facing social media content to enhance their assessments. This should include policy and practice guidance.”
Whether or not social workers should view the profiles of service users has been a topic of debate in recent months, as social workers have argued for the benefits of using publicly available information, while others have warned repeat views of social media profiles could risk a criminal offense when government guidelines are considered.
Moved to ‘cheaper, available accommodation’
The boy was killed by the mother’s abusive ex-partner after they restarted their relationship. The partner would go on to be sentenced for murder, while the mother was sentenced for allowing the death of a child. They received life and three years and four months imprisonment respectively.
Different professionals working with the family “had not understood” the role of a No Recourse to Public Fund Team (NRPFT) social worker, the review said. It also found the mother and her two children were “almost immediately” transferred from Croydon to Wolverhampton after the case’s financial responsibility moved from children’s services to the NRPFT.
This was because “accommodation was cheaper and more readily available” despite concerns that the mother would be away from friends and family.
When in Wolverhampton, the NRPFT did not inform children’s services they were involved in the case, or that the family were in the area, for more than six months after the family had settled.
“Neither then, nor at the point of a subsequent referral approximately 6 months later, did the NRPFT share a copy of Croydon’s assessment or Wolverhampton children’s services request a copy,” the report said.
“The mother subsequently disclosed a “history of domestic abuse” to different practitioners after she moved to Wolverhampton. No-one asked what she meant nor recorded the alleged perpetrators’ names,” the review said.
It was during the time spent in Wolverhampton that the mother restarted a relationship with the partner who would go on to kill the child. Prior to the injuries that caused his death, there had been “no particular concerns” about the care of the child or his older sibling.
“When [the partner] resumed his relationship with mother again a few months before [the child’s] murder, the connection with his previous behaviour towards her was not made,” the review said.
“No-one seems to have considered informing mother and maternal grandmother about “Clare’s law” for their future reference. During the review it became apparent that, by the time of the renewal of mother’s relationship with mother’s partner, had she requested information the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) might have deemed it appropriate to disclose two previous reports of intimidating domestic arguments reported by two different partners and a recent caution for assault against another partner,” it added.
Issues of understanding
The review concluded the partner’s violence which killed the boy could not have been predicted.
It raised issues around how to support victims of domestic abuse, and how practitioners understand the role of other experts. It said: “Practitioners generally had not understood the role of the NRPFT social worker, nor had they formally checked mother and children’s immigration status.”
“There was an appetite from non- specialist staff to better understand the needs, vulnerabilities and necessary survival tactics of people with no right to remain/NRPF, especially as it is likely that London boroughs will continue to place families outside London including, potentially, in Wolverhampton,” the review said.
It recommended how, when women disclose previous domestic abuse, future risk of domestic abuse is better informed by getting details of the nature of the abuse and the name(s) of alleged perpetrators.
It added: “When parents are no longer with an abusive partner, more tenacity and creativity may be required to engage them to prevent repeat victimisation.”
“It may be that the protective factors at the time of [the child’s] birth, which included that the relationship was relatively new, that mother had confided in maternal Grandmother, and that mother was moving to Wolverhampton, were considered to outweigh the risks of repetition, as no-one seems to have considered obtaining consent to refer to the police or domestic abuse services,” the review said.
It said there had been “over-reliance” on the “Freedom programme” as the intervention for the mother following her disclosing domestic abuse.
Pockets of good practice
Linda Sanders, independent chair of Wolverhampton Safeguarding Children Board, echoed the report and said that, prior to the injuries that killed the child, there had been no particular concerns about his care and welfare. “He was typically found to be a happy boy who was developing normally by the professionals who came into contact with him.”
“This all changed when his mother got back together with her ex-partner, a very violent man who believed in the use of physical chastisement to bring up boys,” Sanders said.
She said the review highlighted pockets of good practice, including the NRPF social worker checking the house for anyone else who might be living in the house, and multi-agency staff proactively making checks with other agencies.
However, it raised “important questions about how professionals assess the risk of domestic violence and the implications that having no right to remain and no recourse to public funds have on the lives of the families they work with”.