Learning lessons from tragedy

Blackpool Town Hall and (below) Coun Sarah Riding.
Blackpool Town Hall and (below) Coun Sarah Riding.
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THE tragic death of a three-month-old baby has highlighted failings in Blackpool’s care of vulnerable children.

An investigation concluded while the death of the boy – found unconscious in his parents bed – could not have been prevented, 
social workers missed vital opportunities to intervene.

Coun Sarah Riding

Coun Sarah Riding

It was known there had been physical harm to another child in the family and inadequate assessments were carried out.

Town hall chiefs today pledged to learn lessons from the serious case review carried out by the Blackpool Safeguarding Board. Its findings come after last month’s Ofsted report which branded Blackpool’s child protection services “inadequate.”

The probe was instigated following the death of the boy, who has not been identified, in February 2010. Legal proceedings meant the findings were not published until now.

Experts representing a number of agencies including social care, the NHS and the police, identified “a series of missed opportunities” to engage with the family “which meant that practice fell short of expected standards.”

The family moved to Blackpool in 2008, and the father had previously been cautioned for an offence of cruelty after another child in the family suffered a fracture to their arm at 12 days old.

Despite calls to the authorities claiming domestic abuse was taking place, it was deemed no action was necessary. The baby, who was the youngest of three children born to teenage parents and is referred to only as Child I, was found unconscious after sharing a bed with his parents during the night.

No cause of death was ever established but a post-mortem found the baby had suffered fractures to his ribs some weeks prior to his death.

The report says: “Child I was a vulnerable child, living within a family setting where there was known to have been physical harm to a previous child of the family.”

Failings identified by the review include the “use of an inexperienced student social worker” to carry out an assessment at what was described as “a critical point for the family.”

There was inconsistent recording of whether the children had been seen during social work visits, inadequate assessments, weak links with social workers in the family’s previous town, 
support was focused too much on the parents instead of the children and there was an “absence of rigorous, good quality supervision.”

But the review says it would be wrong to presume the baby’s death could have been prevented “even had the practice been of the highest standard.” Now social care chiefs have pledged to learn lessons from the tragic case.

Coun Sarah Riding, cabinet member for children’s services at Blackpool Council, said: “The serious case review of Child I identifies that his sad death couldn’t have been predicted or prevented however there were important lessons that needed to be learnt.

“The standard of care fell short of what is expected and there were a number of missed opportunities from the council and other agencies that could have led to a better understanding of the family’s situation. The advice in the report was acted upon but it’s clear that much more still needs to be done.

“We had already started to look at children’s social care before the Ofsted inspection and we are addressing all matters that have been identified as a matter of urgency.”

Last month, Government inspectors Ofsted published a report criticising Blackpool Council’s care of vulnerable children.

They found children had been let down by a series of failings in the system designed to protect them from harm. Inspectors discovered social workers did not understand their roles, some cases were closed while children were still at risk, and care bosses had not attended vital meetings.

Council leaders from all parties have pledged to work together to overhaul the system and are now reviewing a number of cases.