Damning report finds Norfolk children were left at risk of neglect for years, in a home where drug addicts partied through the night
- Credit: Contributed
Two children were left at risk of neglect and abuse for years, living in a home which was often filthy and filled with drug users partying into the night, a damning new report has revealed.
A newly-published serious case review reveals a string of opportunities to help the youngsters were missed by organisations, including Norfolk County Council's children's services department.
The report, carried out by the Norfolk Safeguarding Children's Board, reveals how 'two young children were not provided with the prompt and comprehensive help that they needed, leaving them at risk from neglectful care for too long.'
It showed the youngsters were:
• Exposed to 'high levels' of verbal and physical abuse between their parents and, once the mother left the father, 'risky males' known to police for drug and other offences lived at the address.
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• The mother 'tried at times' to be a good parent, but slipped away into drug misuse and was exploited by men.
• On many occasions she did not give the children breakfast and the state of the home 'fluctuated between being reasonable to being grossly inadequate'.
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• For more than a year, one of the children told her school and a worker from a refuge about 'being hungry, being kept up late and about mother being under the influence of drugs' - but there was evidence that their views were 'not always believed by all professionals'.
• While there had been concerns raised about the children from their early lives - the children's services response was 'limited'.
In 2010, one of the children was found by police 'cowering in the corner' after seeing their father hit their mother. Police told children's services, who assessed the situation and decided there should be no further action.
The children were in care with foster carers temporarily in 2011/12, but the report found that, between October 2012 and 2013, 'significant and serious concerns' about the children's welfare and safety were reported, including that cannabis was being smoked in the home and that one of the children had been smacked.
At one point police were called to the home because of a party, with one of the children found at 4am in the company of 'unknown males'.
But, the report says: 'There was no timely response and there was delay with no children's services assessment completed or child protection process invoked.'
In June 2014, police were called to a rowdy party 'with many drug users present'. Although the children were not there, beds were 'trashed', with urine and faeces in the bedrooms.
One of the children had previously reported 'soreness' at school and, a few days after the party, rang Childline to say they were not being cared for properly and had been touched inappropriately.
The child later said it had been a boy at school.
The report said: 'Despite many indicators of concern, the possibility that this child may have been sexually abused was not considered for a lengthy period.'
Police then removed the children from home, but they were returned home because the mother had cleaned up and denied what the child said.
However, a few weeks later there was 'a further crisis' with another party and drug use in the house, with the mother unconscious on the sofa and the children were removed permanently. The mother was later convicted of neglect.
The report stated, however, that despite everything, the children are 'intelligent, lively youngsters', who are settling well with their new family.
What Norfolk County Council said
The latest serious case review comes as Norfolk County Council continues to try to improve its children's services department, twice rated inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.
Andrew Bunyan, Norfolk County Council's interim director of children's services, who took over following the resignation of Michael Rosen last month said: 'While we accept the findings of this review and are extremely sorry for instances where clearly we failed to respond appropriately or quickly enough to situations of concern – it is important to remember that at the time when these sad occurrences were taking place (2012 –2014) the department was in a very different place to where it is today.
'Following an Ofsted inspection in 2013 the department's social care services were judged inadequate - and since then we have put considerably clearer child protection measures in place, something acknowledged in both our re- inspection in 2015 and our most recent Ofsted monitoring visit. These measures include a focus on understanding and responding to the issues of neglect in families.
'Our pioneering work on integrating the 'Signs of Safety' approach throughout the department and with partners since 2014 reinforces the importance of building relationships with children and their families to understand more clearly the issues which lead to children feeling or being unsafe in their homes.'
What the Norfolk Safeguarding Children's Board said
Norfolk Safeguarding Children's Board chairman David Ashcroft said: 'This case identifies how two young children were not provided with the prompt and comprehensive help that they needed, leaving them at risk from neglectful care for too long. This should not have happened. When concerns escalated in 2014 action was then taken to bring the children into care.
'Addressing neglect is one of the board's clear priorities, and this case highlights the need for all agencies to become better at recognising the signs of neglect – including social workers, police, schools and GPs.
'It also shows the need to give greater attention to what children are saying to build a fuller picture of their situation, and to challenge accounts given by parents.
'The Signs of Safety approach now used across Norfolk encourages all those working with a family to identify clearly what they are worried about, and what action is required to reduce the risks to children.
'There were many factors that led to a delay in intervention, and while each of the agencies acted in the best interests of the children in isolation, some of the serious and significant concerns they had were not recorded or shared between them.
'We will be introducing a framework to oversee work of agencies who work with children affected by neglect, as it is essential that agencies are in regular contact with each other.'