CHILD protection chiefs failed to act on reports a father subjected his children to physical and sexual abuse for more than a year, a damning report has revealed.
A Serious Case Review launched by the Southampton Local Safeguarding Children Board into the case of a father, known as Mr A for legal reasons, and his seven children found a catalogue of failures by organisations working together to safeguard the children’s welfare.
The Daily Echo can reveal the father is serving a long custodial sentence after admitting numerous charges of neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
The report revealed:
- The children were “dirty and poorly dressed”, their behaviour was uncontrolled, they were “often hungry”, had missing teeth, and lived in squalor in a “cold, dirty, overcrowded home”.
- They were home-schooled by their father – despite social workers knowing he was illiterate and suffered from a history of mental health problems.
- Social workers received reports of concerns of sexual abuse but failed to act.
- Staff were also intimidated by residents living on a travellers’ site where the family lived.
- There were “troubled relationships” between staff which added to an already difficult situation.
- Action against the abuse only took place when two of the children were caught shoplifting.
Mr A, who suffered a long history of mental illness, brought his children to a travellers’ site in Southampton in summer 2011 after moving from Norfolk following a split with their mother.
The report revealed he immediately declared the children would be home-educated – despite being illiterate.
A health visitor who attended the site in August that year was told by the father the children were healthy and had no concerns for them.
It prompted the health visitor to contact Southampton’s Children Social Care Services (CSC) but it was decided the situation did not meet the threshold for their involvement, the report says.
In September, a member of Southampton City Council’s education services visited the family again to establish if one of the children would be home-educated.
Yet the CSC had received a referral from a warden on the travellers’ site, which stated female residents expressed concern for the welfare of the children and made comments indicating concerns about sexual abuse.
The referral included claims of a child displaying sexual interest in younger children, and Mr A locking himself in the caravan with his daughters, who could be heard screaming, the report said.
But the claims did not trigger formal child protection arrangements, the report said.
However, the abuse came to light in January 2013 after two of the children were arrested for stealing food and drink from a supermarket.
The report adds “concerns persisted with evidence that the children were unclean, out of control, and dependent on neighbours for food”, while the father was described as “increasingly unkempt”.
It led to police and CSC officers assessing the situation, but the intervention led to a serious disturbance on the travellers’ site.
It was agreed the children would be cared for by their aunt in a neighbouring caravan. The aunt then reported allegations of sexual abuse of the children to the police.
The report revealed one of the children confirmed the “disclosure of sexual abuse of more than one child by the father”. The police returned to the site and found Mr A with two other children – one of whom had significant facial injuries. The father was then arrested.
The report also highlights how children’s social care services in Norfolk did not inform their counterparts in Southampton of their involvement with the family before they left the area.
They initially lived in a two-bedroom unit on site for more than a year which was, by the time they left it, judged to be “disgusting”, with part of a wall missing and extensive damp and mould throughout.
The family moved to a larger caravan in the summer of 2012 but when social workers finally gained access to their home it was described as “uninhabitable”.
Issues that contributed to the failings included “unusual staffing problems and stress” that affected the “strength and capacity” of the CSC service during the family’s time in Southampton.
The report revealed a difficult situation was “compounded by issues within the staff team”, with a number of “troubled relationships between members of staff”, which prevented them from working together affectively.
Social workers were also left intimidated by residents on site being aggressive and threatening violence to staff.