‘Fluctuating’ interventions meant neglect and abuse of girl ‘kicked across room’ was never tackled

Decisions by Leicestershire council to step case up and down made little difference to child's experience, serious case review finds

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Social workers involved with a young child who was seen being “kicked so hard [by her father] that she had flown across the room” failed to intervene meaningfully in her life, an investigation has concluded.

The serious case review (SCR) for Leicestershire and Rutland Safeguarding Children Board, spanning 2013-2017, found professionals did not co-ordinate responses to the neglect and abuse of the girl, ‘Child A’, who is likely to experience long-term developmental impairment.

After moving back to live with her father in the East Midlands in 2015, “the management of concerns about Child A’s welfare was steadily downgraded over time, with intervention fluctuating between family support and child protection,” the SCR report said.

“Concerns for Child A never went away and continued to fester,” it added. “Perspective is therefore important; from Child A’s perspective there is little evidence to indicate that decisions to step up or down, or even out, made much difference to the quality of her daily experiences.”

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In keeping with the findings of many other recent SCRs, the report cited “organisational pressures”, including social worker turnover and inadequate oversight, as an aggravating factor in professionals’ shortcomings. Child A was eventually taken into care – along with two of her half-siblings – after the police received information, including about her father assaulting her.

“Where there is management oversight and advice on a case – especially when risks have been identified and the advice is to step-up involvement – it is important this is followed through,” the report said in a series of practice notes. These also highlighted the importance of reflective practice and the need to guard against bias, over-optimism and group think.

‘False reassurance’

From her birth in 2009, Child A was subject to a child protection plan in Leicestershire due to domestic abuse between her parents, who separated when she was nine months old leading to the case being closed.

While Child A stayed with her mother, moving to Warwickshire and living for a time on a traveller site, her father started a new relationship, the children from which were also subject to protection procures due to risk of harm from him.

The father, who had previously been investigated for violent and sexual offences, including rape, subsequently ended that relationship and started a new one with a woman who had four children and in 2014 gave birth to a half-sibling to Child A. A child protection plan was agreed for the new baby but was soon ended, with health visitors noting no concerns.

In 2014 child protection concerns were also raised in Warwickshire around Child A, after education officers visited her mother and found the girl “visibly uncomfortable, grabbing her groin area but reported to be suffering with thrush”. Months later, the father reappeared and removed Child A from his mother’s care.

“As a result of this happening the handover of risk from one local authority to another was not as effective as it could have been,” the report, which praised Warwickshire social workers, said. “The professional network was falsely reassured that Child A’s safety and welfare had been mostly resolved due to the father’s intervention.”

‘Issues never assertively tackled’

While Child A was still on a child protection plan when she moved back to Leicestershire, this was stepped down in November 2015. Only one further initial child protection conference was held – in October 2016 – prior to the report of Child A being assaulted, which led to her and two half-siblings being removed under an emergency protection order in April 2017.

During this period, “neglect, maltreatment and behaviour were identified as the issues which needed to be addressed for Child A,” the SCR report said.

“Child A appears to have been a scapegoat for both the [stepmother] and father, and certainly being treated differently by [them],” it added. “Child A appears to have lived alone in a house where there were two younger children who were being parented differently.”

But assessment work by Leicestershire children’s services lacked focus, with “issues never really assertively tackled” despite ongoing contact between professionals and the family, the review found.

It recommended Leicestershire and Rutland Safeguarding Children Board take steps to ensure that the safety of all children living in households where concerns have been raised are adequately assessed. The SCR also said the board should evaluate its child protection procedures to ensure the effectiveness of core groups and that multi-agency input into planning was fit for purpose.

‘Things could have been done differently’

Responding to the review findings, a Leicestershire council spokesperson said the county “accepts there were some things that could have been done differently”.

The spokesperson added: “We have carried out our own internal inquiry and have reassured ourselves that our current processes and practices minimise a repeat of the concerns identified in this report.”

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