WE will not let children fall through gaps in the system again.

That was the message from social services bosses as they unveiled a raft of improvements to the way the city looks after its most vulnerable children.

Three years ago saw the deaths of four young children in Southampton.

As their inquests heard, Blake Fowler, Nico Maynard and brothers Jayden and Bradley Adams were the victims of a lack of decent parenting in the first instance.

Due to those failures social services were involved in the care of Blake and the Adams brothers, and came in for criticism during the inquests held last year.

Daily Echo:

Pictured: Southampton Social Services bosses chief executive Dawn Baxendale, Cllr Mark Chaloner, Theresa leavy and Alison Elliot

Despite their involvement those children lost their lives in circumstances which remain unclear after the open verdicts were recorded into their deaths, but no one has ever been charged in connection with them.

An inspection of how Southampton City Council cared for vulnerable youngsters, carried out in 2011 – the year the children died – branded the service “inadequate”.

It was from that starting point that the “radical shake-up” of children’s services in Southampton began.

Daily Echo: Bradley and Jayden Adams

Jayden and Bradley Adams, above

Yesterday saw that work unveiled for the first time, with the team now charged with turning around what was a failing service into one they want to become one of the best in the country.

Those measures have included:

  • More than 50 social workers involved in the most serious cases of child protection and court services are now employed by the city council on a permanent basis, replacing the heavy reliance on agency staff which led to high turnover of staff and inconsistency of care.
  •  A dedicated “nerve centre” where agencies from key services including police, probation, education, health and social care are literally in the same room to discuss the most troubled family cases.
  •  An overhaul of social services by bringing together educational welfare, children’s centres and social services care under one team so that families can be offered a package of support rather than being signposted to different departments.
  • Adopting an “early intervention” policy so that families are identified quicker and offered more help before the problems reach crisis point.

They are what the woman in charge of children’s services transformation says will become the building blocks for improvement.

Theresa Leavy told the Daily Echo that while she was unable to comment on the cases of 2011 – which are currently subject to serious case reviews, she knewwould be lessons to be learned.

“We know that there will be, but we also know we have done a great deal of work already.

“There was a substantial improvement journey we needed to go on. I am sure that there were improvements that were already under way but I effectively did a diagnostic check on the whole service. We needed to do more than improve, we needed to transform, we needed to be brave and bold to move towards being an early intervention city.”

Part of that, she said, was looking at historical cases and learning what lessons they could.

A big part of the charge was moving all the early intervention services together.

“Historically we know that children had fallen between the gaps because of the lack of integration between services. We are doing everything we can to stop that happening. While we can never say tragic cases will never happen again, I am confident that we have made some of the biggest differences to we do everything we can to prevent it happening.”

She pointed to a workforce of over 50 social workers who deal with the most serious child protection cases, and the setting up later this month of a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) – an office where key agencies would meet to discuss particular cases and share information.

“There has been a substantial change (since 2011) within the social work teams using agency staff and staff turnover. Clearly that did have an impact, not only on the kind of quality of service you can provide but also on developing your own staff.

“We now have a much more stable workforce. We now have a more experienced staff who are staying and working with us.”

The improvements already been made have won recognition from a Government child welfare advisor, with Southampton’s work with troubled families being recognised as one of the most improved services the country.

Councillor Mark Chalenor, who took over the Cabinet post of children safeguarding in December, added: “We will never be able to stop cruel people doing horrible things but I do believe that we have better systems in place now to detect it happening.”

The cases that sparked the shake -up:

THE Local Children’s Safeguarding Board commissioned a serious case review into the deaths of three-month-old Nico Maynard, seven-year-old Blake Fowler, four-year- old Jayden Adams and his brother Bradley, aged two.

The report into Nico’s case concluded that crucial information surrounding the previous convictions of his father in relation to child cruelty should have been, but was not, passed on to health and social workers in Southampton when Nico and his twin sister were born.

Daily Echo: Blake Fowler

Blake Fowler, above.

The findings of the remaining reviews are due out later in the spring.

Inquests into their deaths heard how Shelly Adams, mum of Jayden and Bradley, twice asked for her children to be taken away from her at a time when the children were both on the at-risk register – but they never were.

Ms Adams was arrested on suspicion of murdering her children by smothering them after Jayden died in January and Bradley in April 2011.

However, a decision was taken by the Crown Prosecution Service that there was not enough evidence to charge her with any offence.

The inquest into Blake Fowler’s death heard how there was a history of domestic abuse at the family home.

His stepfather Peter Meek was on bail at the time, having been arrested for assaulting Blake’s mother Sarah Spacagna, but despite that the couple were living together unknown to the authorities.

A letter was also written to social services by Sarah’s mother, outlining her fears over Blake’s welfare weeks before he died in December 2011.