Local Authorities, Safeguarding, and abuse of children

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Last month saw the reporting of two devastating cases involving the murder of a child by their mother and their mother’s boyfriend or new partner.

In the case of Eli Cox, aged just 5 months, it is reported that Police were called to the home weeks before Eli’s death, and Kent County Council confirmed the family was known to them. A serious case review is now under way to establish if his death could have been prevented by the authorities.

In the case of Ayeeshia-Jayne Smith, she was just a couple of years old when she was murdered by her mother. The serious case review has recently been completed by the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board and says professionals should have been more “inquisitive”.

The report when on to state:

“The birth father himself admitted to the review author that whilst he had many concerns about his ex-partner’s behaviour, the people she associated with and her reliance on alcohol, at no time did he anticipate that she would fatally harm their daughter”

The mother and child had previously lived in Derbyshire, and had been in continued contact with social services at Derbyshire County Council. The mother, Smith, was found guilty of murder, while her boyfriend Matthew Rigby – who was not Ayeeshia-Jayne’s father – was found guilty of causing or allowing the child’s death. The report described the couple’s relationship as “volatile” and noted that police were called to several domestic incidents between them.

One of the key findings said there was “little recognition” of the role that Rigby and Ayeeshia-Jayne’s biological father played in the child’s life, which resulted in “a lack of professional assessment of both the benefits and risks they posed” to the mother and child.

This all sounds terribly familiar… especially to those of us who have been following cases like these since the case of Victoria Climbie and Baby P. It’s also especially relevant when we see biased research published from organisations like Women’s Aid and their discredited Nineteen Child Homicides campaign.

For some time now one of our researchers has been looking at the connections and communications channels that exist (or don’t exist) between local authorities, children’s services, Cafcass, the Police, and any healthcare professionals (GPs, nurses, midwives etc) connected or involved with a child.

But first we must turn the clock back to the death of Victoria Climbie.

In 2000 an 8 year old girl, Victoria Climbie, was tortured and murdered by her guardians. Her death led to a public inquiry and was supposed to herald huge changes to the child protection laws and services across the UK.

During the abuse, Climbié was burnt with cigarettes, tied up for periods of longer than 24 hours, and hit with bike chains, hammers and wires. Up to her death, the police, the social services department of four local authorities, the National Health Service, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and local churches all had contact with her, and noted the signs of abuse.

 

However, in what the judge in the trial following Climbié’s death described as “blinding incompetence”, all failed to properly investigate the case and little action was taken.

Climbié’s death was largely responsible for various changes in child protection in England, including the formation of the Every Child Matters programme, an initiative designed to improve the lives of children; the introduction of the Children Act 2004, an Act of Parliament that provides the legislative base for many of the reforms; the creation of ContactPoint, a database designed to hold information on all children in England and Wales (now no longer in operation); and the creation of the post of children’s commissioner, who heads the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, a national agency serving children and families.

ContactPoint was a government database that held information on all children under 18 in England. It was created in response to the abuse and death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié in 2000 in England. Various agencies involved in her care had failed to prevent her death. ContactPoint aimed to improve child protection by improving the way information about children was shared between services. It was designed by Capgemini and previously had the working titles of Information Sharing Index (or IS Index or ISI) and the Children’s Index.

The database, created under the Children Act 2004, cost £224m to set up and £41m a year to run. It operated in 150 local authorities, and was accessible to at least 330,000 users. The database was heavily criticised by a wide range of groups, mainly for privacy, security and child protection reasons. On 12 May 2010 the new UK Coalition Government announced plans to scrap ContactPoint and on 6 August 2010 the database was shut down. From that date the Children Act 2004 Information Database (England) Regulations 2007, as amended in 2010, no longer applies.

Following the 2010 General Election the new government (the Conservative-LibDem coalition) scrapped the database as one of their measures ‘to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.

For the purposes of this article our researchers have been looking at the alternatives to Contact Point.

 

On this basis we have made requests to many Local Authorities as follows:

ContactPoint was proposed as a system in the wake of the death of Victoria Climbie as follows:

 

“ContactPoint is intended to provide a quick way for the children’s workforce to find out who else is working with the same child or young person, making it easier for them to deliver coordinated, effective support at an early stage and prevent a child/ young person’s needs and/or difficulties escalating to a point where statutory intervention becomes necessary to protect the child/young person and/or others.”

 

Do your teams have access to, and/or use any other comparable system that delivers this outcome? if so please provide details

Here are the responses so far:

Local AuthorityResponse
KentNo comparable system
Norfolk"Norfolk does not operate another local or national system which provides the same function as ContactPoint.

Workers assigned to an individual are recorded within our social care case management, allowing Norfolk County Council professionals connected to the individual to be networked. This system is not accessed by, or shared with, third parties, unless by written agreement.

However, Norfolk County Council is set to implement a system called CPIS later on in this year. This is to enable the sharing of data between Local Authorities and Health Organisations"
Hampshire"We can advise that Hampshire County Council’s ‘Child Portal’ database system contains a section called the ‘Team Around the Child’. It presents users with a view of other professionals (and their contact details) who are working with the child in question. This data is drawn from the Hampshire County Council Social Care IT system and the Hampshire County Council Education & Inclusion IT system. Child Portal is the closest system that Hampshire County Council has to the aims and intentions of ContactPoint, but it is different in two key ways. Child Portal only contains data about children known to Hampshire County Council, as opposed to a
national system containing all children as ContactPoint was intended to be.

Child Portal is also a single organisation system; i.e. only accessed and used by County Council members of staff rather than a multi agency system. Therefore, it is not accessed by Health, Police or other agencies outside Hampshire County Council as ContactPoint would have been.
In addition, the SafetyNet system is a pilot system used by the County Council’s Supporting (Troubled) Families programme – a Programme, which Hampshire was asked, by the Government, to lead with its partners to help deliver the Prime Minister’s ambition to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families in the country.

SafetyNet is a web based tool already used by key partner agencies of
Hampshire County Council or Children’s Services nationally? Children’s Services to share information on crime, disorder and public protection. SafetyNet contains details of multi-agency involvement and the pilot will determine whether the information shared in the network can assist early decision making in the protection of vulnerable children."
Buckinghamshire"We have implemented Child Protection – Information Sharing (CP-IS), which is a NHS-Digital led project, where we share information with the NHS supplying details of children/young people who are Looked After, subject to a Child Protection Plan or unborn children believed to be at risk"
Somerset"Somerset County Council also uses LiquidLogic for case recording, and the details of any known professionals working with a child would be recorded on the case file.

This is not, however, used as a tool for sharing information with other organisations. I understand from our team who deal with incoming referrals that they use ‘Capita’ to check on educational provision for the child and would ascertain the child’s GP through an arrangement with child health through the patient/practitioner service.

They would also check involvement with ‘GETSET’ and other Early Help Services through the in-house EHM (Early Help Module) database. No other checks are done at this stage, unless the referral and/or any risk assessment identifies possible involved agencies. These agencies would only be contacted with the permission of parents/guardians"
Hertfordshire"I can confirm that Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) does not have any other comparable system to deliver this outcome."

 

In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.

We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.