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Improve or else, failing agencies are warned
TOGETHER they failed her.
That was the finding of an independent review of what went so wrong that a child’s life was put in jeopardy.
A total of 13 organisations have all been told they must take a share of the blame and make improvements in a bid to limit the risk of another youngster slipping through the net.
They are several departments of Southampton City Council, plus Hampshire police, Southampton University Hospitals Trust, Solent Healthcare, Hampshire probation, South Central Ambulance Service, Society of St James, Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy service and the Children And Family Advisory And Support Service.
Today the board that regulates their work with children at risk warned every agency involved that it would go straight to the Government and blow the whistle if they do not, or cannot, show that they have acted.
Donald McPhail, chairman of the Southampton Safeguarding Children Board, said every organisation would be made to prove it had put in place key changes that had been identified, by January 2013, and he would have “no hesitation” in going right to the top if he felt their efforts were inadequate.
The shocking report listed 137 areas for improvement – with 32 of them having been put forward by the organisations themselves following their own internal investigations into what happened.
Today we can reveal how the missed opportunity to safeguard the little girl actually began more than two years ago, before she was even born.
With three siblings already on child protection plans instigated by social workers, there should have been a critical conference involving several agencies before she was born – but that never took place.
- Improve or else, failing agencies warned
- Real prospect of safeguarding city's children
- Agencies must act swiftly
- Read the full report into the case
- Catalogue of failures left vulnerable child in danger
And despite being put on a child protection plan after her birth, the escalating dangers to her while living with a drug addict mother using methadone don’t appear to have been shared. Southampton City Council has admitted procedures and training of staff didn’t come up to scratch and they failed to act swiftly in light of the death of Miss Cooper’s boyfriend two months before the little girl drank the methadone.
But, with Hampshire police, they denied the case was indicative of what was happening across the board.
The force also admitted further training was required to ensure all officers knew when to raise the alarm if they thought a child could be at risk as well as to better understand dangers posed to any child by a drug-abusing parent.
Both bodies denied that drastic cuts to staffing and budgets played any part in their failings.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sara Glen, head of Hampshire Constabulary CID, said: “We accept the findings of the serious case review and the failings it identifies on the part of Hampshire Constabulary. We take our responsibilities in the protection of all vulnerable people very seriously and have taken steps to reduce the risk of a similar incident happening again.
“We have implemented the recommendations of the report which highlighted the need for us to make improvements to our ability to consistently apply effective risk assessment and information sharing with partner agencies to ensure effective decision making and protection plans.
“In particular, we need to ensure that we look at all information known to police to better inform these processes and that we share new information relating to the family promptly with partner agenments and plans.
“Our priority is protecting the people we serve from harm and so we’re committed to learning from the serious case review process in order to continue to provide an excellent service.”
Cllr Sarah Bogle, Cabinet member for children’s services at Southampton City Council, said it fully accepted the findings and recommendations for improvement in the report. She said: “This was a very unfortunate and ultimately avoidable incident and we have worked closely with our partners to try to ensure something like this cannot happen again.
“The response of all involved agencies has been swift, appropriate and proportional, and we are satisfied lessons have been learned and fully integrated into practice.”
She added that new robust protocols have been introduced with lockable boxes being issued to homes where methadone is used.
Further training is under way to ensure staff knew the importance of sharing information both internally and with other key agencies.
She added: “Southampton City Council is committed to ensuring that the lessons from the review make a real difference to protecting vulnerable children in the city.”
Child Protection Plans
CHILDREN identified as being in need of safeguarding are placed on child protection plans initiated by the local council.
In Southampton the numbers can vary on a weekly basis, depending on the outcome of a conference to discuss the latest situation.
At the end of September this year there were 263 youngsters on council books. Not all of them will need to be referred to police, or if they are, will result in any police involvement.
Within Hampshire police, cases are collated differently with care protection plans for children. Similarly, the numbers can fluctuate almost on a daily basis, depending on the outcome of a
police inquiry into what is happening.
In September this year the figure was 214, in August it was 156. Since the review, a dedicated team has been created within the force to deal specifically with child-at-risk referrals as they come in.