CAFCASS; Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service

Opportunities to intervene before a 16-month-old girl was killed by her father “were missed” by social services and other agencies, an inquiry has found.

Amy Howson, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, had her spine snapped by her father James in December 2007.

A serious case review found the town’s children’s services team failed to take proper action to safeguard the girl, who also was beaten several times.

It identified “three key missed opportunities” to intervene.

Howson, of Nelson Road, Doncaster, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 22 years after being convicted of Amy’s murder.

Her mother Tina Hunt was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years after admitting she allowed the death of a child and child cruelty.

The serious case review referred to Amy as Child B.

In its conclusion, it said: “The murder of Child B by her father… was not predictable given the information and knowledge held on him and other family members by agencies.

“However, there was sufficient information and knowledge on family members, including (the father), held by individual agencies to conclude that, on balance, both Child B and (another child) were at risk of significant harm from him.

“Some agencies within the Doncaster multi-agency child protection system failed to follow basic safeguarding procedures and did not take proper and effective action to safeguard and promote the welfare of Child B and (the other child).”

The review also concluded an “inter-agency working and communications were deficient”.

It identified “three key missed opportunities for agencies to intervene with a proper assessment and subsequent child protection plan”.


Doncaster agencies failed to follow basic procedures in case of Amy Howson, who died when her spine was snapped by her father, says inquiry report

A series of errors meant child protection agencies missed several opportunities to intervene to protect a 16-month-old girl physically abused and finally murdered by her violent father, a inquiry has found.

Social workers, schools and health visitors all failed to follow basic safeguarding procedures in the case of Amy Howson, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, who died when her spine was broken by her father, the serious case review says. She had been punched and slapped on numerous occasions in the four weeks before her death, leaving her with fractures to her arms, legs and ribs.
A separate serious case review into the death from abuse of another Doncaster youngster, three-month-old Alfie Goddard, concluded that although there had been no prior evidence of abuse, safeguarding agencies failed to recognise important signs that he was at risk. Alfie died of head injuries after being violently shaken and thrown to the floor by his father.

Although much of the media focus on child protection in recent months has been on Haringey, the council in north London at the centre of the Baby P tragedy, Doncaster has been for some time a focus of concerns about child safeguarding. Seven children known to Doncaster’s social services have died as a result of abuse or neglect since 2004.

An Ofsted inspection last year branded children’s services in the town “inadequate”and the decision by the children’s secretary, Ed Balls, to send in outside experts to overhaul the services helped trigger the departure of former mayor, Martin Winter, who announced in March that he would not be standing for re-election.

The review into the circumstances leading up to Amy’s death in December 2007 found social workers and schools critically failed to act on two occasions when presented with evidence of aggressive behaviour by her father, James Howson.

The leader of Dundee City Council today said he agreed with the Scottish Government that a lack of central funding was not responsible for the failures in the citys child protection services (writes David Clegg).

It had appeared Councillor Ken Guild was at odds with his SNP colleagues in Holyrood yesterday when he confirmed the council had set aside an extra Pfund500,000 to help fund improvements.

That was despite the Scottish Government claiming improving childrens services in the city was not about spending more a view echoed by Dundees two SNP MSPs, Shona Robison and Joe FitzPatrick.

But speaking to the Tele today, Mr Guild said he agreed that money was not the solution to the problem and that the Pfund500,000 had only been put aside in the event it was needed.

I would absolutely agree (with the government), he said.

We are looking at ways of improving how the system works. What we have said now is that if we need to spend money rapidly it will be there. But the solution is not to throw money at it we need to ensure the existing service is mobilised so it works properly.

But I know there has been considerable pressure from the opposition politicians to throw money at it. If we do find we need to spend money to improve the service it will be there on standby.

The money has been set aside as part of an improvement plan for child protection in light of this weeks damning report into child protection services in the city.

Inspectors found major deficiencies and said they were not confident children at risk were not being identified or receiving the protection they needed.

The report sparked calls from Labour and Tories for a review of Scotlands child protection services and an increase in funding.

Rory Malone, Dundee branch secretary of the union Unison, also claimed a lack of government funding was behind the poor performance.

Social workers should be able to complain without being sacked, and be allowed make practice mistakes in a supportive learning environment, says Liz Davies

I recently visited Maria Ward and Gillie Christou the social worker and team manager, respectively, for Baby Peter. It was how I imagine it might be visiting someone under house arrest. Shutters drawn, secret venues, sneaking out at night when no one would recognise them, and jumping at every sound. I’ve also spoken to Lisa Arthurworrey this week, social worker for Victoria Climbie.

Nearly 10 years on from Victoria’s death and having presented evidence at the criminal trial of the murderers, the serious case review, the Haringey disciplinary hearings, employment tribunals and appeal, the appeal against the General Social Care Council (GSCC) for refusing her social worker registration, and the appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal against her name being placed on the Protection of Children Act list, Lisa is also mainly confined to her house. She is also 10 years older and still awaits GSCC registration three years after a judge said she was fit for practice “as of today”.

This is a very depressing picture to paint for my social work students who fear that when they make a mistake, which is inevitable in a profession that works with the complexity of human beings, they may also be subject to such relentless punishment.

Maria and Gillie have just begun these legal processes with three sets of investigations ongoing. They have already given evidence at two serious case reviews, the criminal trial, and the GSCC and Haringey disciplinary hearings. Thanks to a recent House of Lords ruling, no social worker can be placed on the Protection of Children Act list without a hearing. It is also to be hoped that the legal decision in Lisa’s case about the use of the list for professional mistakes as “an unusual occurrence, to be used only in the most clear cut of cases” will bode well for them in this respect.

Nevres Kemal, social worker and whistleblower, was sacked by Haringey council but fought it at employment tribunal and won an out of court settlement. She remains out of work, despite still being registered. Who wants to employ a whistleblower? These are four ex-Haringey social workers who have no salaries and no professional employment, and three who fear public recrimination every moment of every day.

What can be done to end this misery? None of these social workers acted maliciously in any way. They all worked very hard, often late into the night, struggled with massive caseloads, lack of quality supervision and essential child protection training and practiced in the midst of service uncertainty and restructuring. All of them had previous spotless employment records; in fact Maria was made into a permanent worker after Baby Peter’s death. Having supported Lisa through her various hearings I wonder where Maria and Gillie will have got to in nine years time. There has to be another way.

Frankly, it’s distressing how illogical we are about cruelty to children. Remember the national spasm of grief when we saw that smudgy picture of Baby P: the blond curls, the wistful expression? We grieved like sentimental saps, gripped by the thought of the poor soul dying in agony, unloved and abused. And we hugged our own children tighter, congratulating ourselves that they would never experience anything like Peter’s brief, terrible existence. I did it; every mother did it. It was a kind of surreptitious mother porn.

And then we promptly switched off our brains to wait for the next harrowing death. Where was the outcry when we read of the thousands of children, some only 18 months older than Peter, who are excluded from primary school for bad behaviour? Nowhere to be seen.

Where was the special response to the evidence of biting, swearing, kicking and inappropriate sexual behaviour among infants – other than the usual litany of moans: it’s dreadful, isn’t it? An indictment of society. It has to be dealt with, punished. Those children must learn respect and the difference between right and wrong before they come to school. The parents must be told. And other children certainly shouldn’t have their education disrupted by that kind of thing.

If we were rational, of course, we would be moved to a different kind of outrage. But we aren’t. It is a plain fact that, while we emote for the Baby Peters and Brandon Muirs of this world – those who die in terrible circumstances at the hands of their parents – we are remarkably less sympathetic to the Peters and Brandons who survive long enough to get to school and to manifest the results of their terrible start in life. Somewhere, without any change in circumstances, pity has turned to antipathy; everyone’s tragic victim has become tomorrow’s feral brat.

According to research by The Times, revealed before this week’s Ofsted report, the number of children temporarily excluded from primary school rose by 14 per cent in the past year to 27,000. Of those 12,000 were under the age of 8.

But the really damning statistic for me is that more than 1,200 of the fixed-term exclusions from schools in England and Wales in 2007 involved children aged 4 and under. Dwell on that, mothers. Think about an average child of 4, its considerable needs, its curiosity, its innocence, its desire to laugh, its trust in adults.

Then understand that there are some infants of that age already so profoundly damaged by an absence of love and attention that many of their chances of participating fully in the world have probably already been taken away. Children who, according to Ofsted, don’t understand that adults are in charge or that no means no. Who have witnessed nothing but aggression at home, who see smack cooked up more often than sausages. That’s not me being emotional – that’s a fact.

{July 1, 2009}   Expulsion is not the answer

Children displaying sexualised behaviour need better support, not a fast track to bored and angry unemployment

Ofsted inspectors investigating an increase in exclusions from primary schools have discovered “worrying” levels of sexual behaviour among very young children.

It would be easy to tip into yet another moral panic, with the tabloid headlines writing themselves. The figures, however, show that the numbers are small, though they are on the increase.

What also causes concern is that the solutions applied in some schools expulsion and/or the immediate involvement of social services may do still more harm to both the infant victimisers and those who are the recipients of inappropriate sexual behaviour. “Sexualised behaviour” covers a wide range of invasive behaviour not all of which signals the child is her/himself being sexually abused although possibly equally as damaging, they might be witnessing adult sexual behaviour.

In the middle ages, there was no childhood; infants were deemed miniature adults and there were few sexual boundaries. Now, in some families, short of intelligence and life skills, the same attitudes apply. Yet, arguably, while some of those parents may be incapable of giving love and protection, others can and will change, given the right kind of support. If this kind of parenting support, mentoring from parents from a similar background and intensive help in schools, sounds like the nanny state, that’s still infinitely preferable to children being placed in care or poor fostering arrangements that only add to the damage.

Better and more imaginative support for families; greater investment in schools with a high proportion of challenging pupils; expulsion only used in extremis (while properly protecting children on the receiving end of physical and sexual assault) and a sense of perspective is required.

According to Ofsted’s chief inspector, Christine Gilbert, exclusion of children under seven is still very rare.

The latest figures for 2006-07 show there were 13,460 fixed-term exclusions (suspensions) and 260 permanent exclusions with boys 10 times more likely to be excluded. Eight of the 69 schools visited by Ofsted inspectors had suspended children for behaviour that was perceived to have an inappropriate sexual element. Most schools had instigated child protection proceedings or contacted social workers.

As the family of Haylee Donathan rejoice at her safe return home, the family of Jada Justice are desperate to find their little girl, who disappeared almost two weeks ago.

Jada Justice, 2, went missing on June 16 at about 9:40 p.m., when her 18-year-old babysitter said she left Jada in the back seat of the car while she went into a gas station convenience store to buy cigarettes and milk.

According to Jadas mother, Melissa Swiontek, police are working around the clock to find Jada.

Swiontek told Nancy Grace that she asked the babysitter, Engelica Castillo why she left the car unlocked and parked on the side of the gas station instead of the front. she just keeps telling me I dont know, I dont know. I was just running in real quick.

She said she spoke to a gas station attendant who saw Castillo. He told Swiontek that Castillos demeanor was normal until she returned appearing to be hysterical.

Swiontek and Jadas father, who has regular visitation with the toddler, have both taken polygraph tests, however, as of Tuesday, Castillo had not taken one.

Council employees in Bridgend have been praised for “sustained and substantial improvement” in children’s services.

It has led to the lifting of a “serious concern” protocol after a review by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW).

Inspectors said Bridgend County Borough Council now responded “much more promptly and effectively” to initial concerns about children.

Council leader Mel Nott called it “excellent news”.

“As a cabinet we have been determined to see a sustained and substantial improvement in this area, and I have been very closely involved in monitoring progress,” he said.

“I know how dedicated staff within the children’s directorate have been to making this happen.”

The council said the review of children’s services by CSSIW found that social services staff and managers had “have continued to work hard to secure further improvements and have established more robust systems for consistent assessment of risk and effective decision making”.

The authority said staff were “supported by strong corporate leadership for children’s services and performance management arrangements have been established”.

Reviewing progress

CSSIW chief inspector Rob Pickford said the council was also much more reliable in planning for children’s welfare and reviewing progress.

He added: “The relationship between the inspectorate and the authority can now revert to one of normal business, with the Inspectorate checking progress through our normal programme of inspection and reviews.”

Children’s organisations across health, education and social services have been criticised in the serious case reviews into the deaths of two children in Doncaster.
¬†The first review, into the death of a 16-month-old girl known as Child B, who was killed by her father in 2007, found that children’s agencies missed three key opportunities to intervene. They also failed to follow basic safeguarding procedures. Doncaster Primary Care Trust’s health visiting team and Doncaster Council’s community and schools social work service came in for particular criticism for failing to safeguard Child B as well as her brother, known in the report…

Children as young as four are being excluded from school for displaying violent and inappropriate sexual behaviour, according to an Ofsted report published today.
¬†Children were excluded for offences including biting other students and attacking school staff. Fourteen of the schools visited by Ofsted reported problems with pupils’ sexualised behaviour. Teachers told Ofsted that the young children who were excluded had all experienced varying degrees of trauma. Many had experienced family breakdown or domestic violence. In one case a child who saw his mother killed in a refugee camp before moving to England was excluded for bad behaviour. The watchdog…

et cetera