Critical report reveals how chances to protect Norfolk children from rapist father were missed
- Credit: Contributed
Children who were abused by their father, including nine counts of rape, were let down by organisations which failed to take action to protect them.
The father of the children, who professionals involved with the family had seen as 'charming' and a 'hero', was jailed for life for abusing three of them, including for nine counts of rape.
His crimes finally came to light after one of the children told a teacher that he and his siblings had been abused.
The case triggered a serious case review, conducted by the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board, to look at what went wrong and what lessons could be learned.
It found that:
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• Between June 2012 and July 2015, there were 19 different allegations made against the father - known as Mr Y - by the children's mother, household visitors, neighbours, teachers, the children and anonymous people.
• In 2013, the children's mother (Mrs Y) had made a report to the police alleging 13 years of violence and sexual assaults on two of the children.
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But, despite previous convictions of violence against Mrs Y and allegations of rape before the family lived in Norfolk (the case did not proceed to court), Mrs Y's reports to police and the county council about abuse against children were 'dismissed as malicious'.
• After Mrs Y left the family home, the 'universal view' of professionals 'was a father who was a hero - coping alone with six children and doing a good job'.
But he tricked professionals into believing he was 'pleasant' and 'charming'.
One of the children said: 'He told us to play happy families when people visited - we were used to doing it. He was good at hiding stuff, he lied about everything.
'People thought that dad was a good dad, but he fooled them... they thought he was a nice dad instead of a rubbish dad.'
Children spoke of being told to lie and 'put on a good show' when professionals visited the family, with two of the children saying their father had threatened to kill them if they spoke about what was happening at home.
• Children's services had not considered the family's history well enough and there had been a 'lack of robust supervision and challenge from managers about the response to allegations and disclosures of abuse.'
It said there was 'no evidence of professional curiosity' during the earlier visits by social workers and by health professionals and not enough effort made to speak to the children without their father being there. There was, it said, 'a perpetual narrative that father posed no risk to the children'.
• Norfolk police were also criticised for the approach to the allegations made by Mrs Y, an inconsistency in checking background information and failure to challenge the decision making by children's services.
• There were occasions where opportunities were missed and concerns not investigated by the multi-agency safeguarding hub - the partnership of organisations including police and children's services. Allegations of assault saw Mr Y's account 'accepted without question',
The report says: 'This response fell well below expected practice and procedure and left the children at risk of further harm.'
• At one point a family friend contacted the school to report abuse. The children confirmed physical abuse and spoke of Mr Y's use of drugs and alcohol.
They were placed with the family friend overnight, but no child protection medicals took place. The father, in police interview, 'skilfully framed abuse as 'play fighting' in response to their 'naughty behaviour'.
He was cautioned for common assault and the four youngest children went back to the father without him having been seen by a social worker or any support being in place. That, the report said: 'placed the children at risk of further significant harm.'
After this, an assistant practitioner went to the home and had a 'gut feeling' something was not right. A social worker later challenged a management view the case should be closed.
A relationship was then built up with the children and one of the children told his teacher of the abuse, triggering Mr Y's arrest.
When the safeguarding board asked the children, now in foster care, what could have been done to help them, one said: 'They shouldn't have always believed him.'
Apology from 'extremely sorry' council bosses
Sara Tough, executive director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: 'The children in family Y faced terrible abuse at the hands of their father, who was ultimately responsible for keeping them safe.
'Sadly, sexual abuse within families is more common than many people think and our social workers face these kinds of distressing cases on a regular basis. Most of the time we get the response and the support right but, in the case of family Y, we did not respond appropriately or quickly enough and we are extremely sorry to these children.'
The department has twice been rated as inadequate by Ofsted inspectors - in 2013 and 2015. But this month inspectors improved the grading to requires improvement.
Ms Tough said: 'Our latest Ofsted report shows that we have made very significant progress over the 18 months and services now are very different from those experienced by these children between 2011 and early 2016. The improvements are evident in the social work practice seen towards the end of the review and it is also clear that learning from previous serious case reviews played a part in that improved work.
'In the last year we have increased management capacity in our social work teams, to ensure that staff have good supervision and oversight to help them to protect children. Ofsted made clear in their report that children are seen alone regularly and that our practice is now child-centred.
'We do still need to recruit more social workers to ensure that children can develop a strong relationship with their social workers. That is a priority for the year ahead and the recent Ofsted report should help to attract more staff to the county.
The Norfolk Safeguarding Children board has made seven recommendations following the review. They include the need to listen more to children, to improve checks of family histories to identify youngsters at risk of sexual abuse, better training, a need for shared decision-making among organisations and for professionals to challenge each other and show more curiosity over cases.
David Ashcroft, chair of the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board, said: 'In the past, child sexual abuse has often been hidden and not discussed, and it is important that we are alert to the signs that may indicate abuse, and give children the space, safety and confidence to talk about what is happening to them.
'In family Y the children were not always given that opportunity and on behalf of the board, we are very sorry that the multi-agency response was not good enough.
'Serious case reviews give us the chance to learn from what has happened, so that we can improve practice for Norfolk's children. It is clear that learning from previous reviews improved the later support for the children in this family, who are now safe and being well supported.
'Although overall the early response was not of the standard we expect in Norfolk, the schools involved did offer some exceptional support to the children and were safe havens, where trust was built up between the adults and children.
'Over the last 18 months services for children and families have been improving rapidly and this is evidenced in the most recent Ofsted inspection. We are confident that our local agencies are now better able to support children quickly and effectively when they are at risk.'
What Norfolk police say
A Norfolk police spokesperson said: 'Any recommendations made from case reviews are taken very seriously and we will always look to improve our response and working practices with partners where learning needs are identified.
'This was a complex and challenging case involving information from other policing areas and a range of material that was challenging to interpret and it was therefore difficult to understand what information needed to be shared with partners.
'We acknowledge the findings which show officers could have taken more proactive action to investigate reports made to police. Being professionally curious is one of the key threads of our vulnerability training which has already been rolled out across the county.
'In addition, we have also introduced a No Further Action (NFA) policy, which ensures that information continues to be shared between agencies even if there is insufficient evidence at that time for a criminal investigation.'