‘Poverty blindness’ may have caused Blackpool social workers to overlook neglect of toddlers ‘injected with heroin’ by dad, report finds

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The shocking case of a Blackpool dad who ‘injected toddlers with heroin to make them sleep’ has led to powerful criticisms of social services.

 

Social workers prioritised the mental health and substance abuse problems of the neglectful parents over the safety and wellbeing of their four children, one-year-old ‘Chloe’, two-year-old ‘Harper’, nine-year-old ‘Lucas’ and 16-year-old ‘Ava’, according to a child safeguarding practice review.

All four children were found to have suffered ‘chronic neglect’ from both of their parents, with things coming to a head in November 19 when the father was accused of injecting Chloe and Harper with heroin to make them sleep

The toddlers tested positive for opiates following a medical examination, though there was ‘no evidence of an injection site’. However, when one of the children attended nursery three days later, a potential injection bruise to the thigh was seen.

A review found that social workers may have been desensitised to the abuse suffered by the four children, whose parents had been known to authorities since 2006

A review found that social workers may have been desensitised to the abuse suffered by the four children, whose parents had been known to authorities since 2006

All four children have now been taken into care.

Independent safeguarding advisor Amanda Clarke, investigating the case, said: “The lifestyle of the mother and father in this case was described as ‘mostly chaotic’ and affected by their own personal needs. This overshadowed the needs of the children and professional responses to concerns within the family often became focussed on issues relating to the adults, such as their substance misuse and mental health.”

She added that some professionals believed ‘if the parents could be helped this would in turn help the children’. However, ‘positive outcomes for the children were mostly not evident even after extensive efforts at supporting the mother and father’.

The report, by the Children’s Safeguarding Assurance Partnership, heard extensive evidence of the struggles faced by the family dating all the way back to 2006. Issues within the family included neglect, domestic abuse, parental mental health problems and substance abuse. The children were sometimes looked after by their maternal grandmother, who was also known to have problems with mental health and substance abuse.

In 2018, concerns were raised about the 34-year-old mother’s drug use during her pregnancy with Chloe. The baby was born with neo-natal abstinence syndrome, which causes newborns to go through drug withdrawals after being exposed to them in the womb, and nurses feared the mother would be unable to look after her.

An initial child protection conference failed to consider ‘the whole spectrum of neglect’, and Chloe was put on a child protection plan, which was ended 10 weeks later ‘despite evidence of the parents’ ongoing substance use’.

In September 2018, a violent domestic incident was reported, in which both the mother and father sustained serious injuries, and were noted by attending police officers to be under the influence. Weapons were also recovered from the home address.

In September 2018, a violent domestic incident was reported, in which both the mother and father sustained serious injuries, and were noted by attending police officers to be under the influence. Weapons were also recovered from the home address.

Just a few days later, further concerns were raised when the 37-year-old father attended Lucas’ school ‘significantly under the influence’.

According to the report, both Ava and Lucas had made concerning remarks about their ‘chaotic’ home life, but these were not taken on board, and the opportunity for them to share their thoughts was not consistently provided to them.

Ms Clarke said: “On a child protection visit to Ava at her aunt’s address, she is clear about mother keeping her off school to care for her siblings. She spoke of her mother’s ongoing heroin use and that she would “rather go into care than return home”.

“Ava disclosed that her stepfather has been talking about hanging himself in front of mother, and Ava had witnessed her mum overdosing. When the family had a sudden move to a new address, Ava states she has been to the address and said ‘it is a hovel’ and ‘social workers should take her brother and sisters into care’.”

Neglect of the children was evident throughout the review timeframe, and before. School records obtained for the report showed Lucas had been late for school, and that he told staff it was because he was looking after his siblings. A few weeks earlier, the nine-year-old had told his teachers that his mum did not get up in the mornings, and that Ava got him ready and took him to school.

In the two months leading to the alleged injection of Harper and Chloe, records showed several indicators of worsening neglect, but there was ‘no evidence’ that steps had been taken to address this.

Ava’s school attendance declined and she had no money for the bus to school. Lucas required several dental extractions due to tooth decay, and was seen to be upset at school but would not say why. Both Harper and Chloe appeared ‘grubby, with wet soggy nappies’, and their parents reported no money for nappies and food.

The house was cold and the parents admitted to using drugs at home.

Ms Clarke said: “The existence of neglect within the family and in particular for the children is clear, throughout the entire review timeframe. The local area is known for its deprivation with several families living with poverty. Previous research has identified that some professionals working with families living in areas of high deprivation come to accept lower standards.

“Professionals become accustomed to working in areas with large numbers of children and high deprivation. As a result, there may be a normalisation and desensitisation to the warning signs of neglect. ‘Poverty blindness” may occur where professionals are working in these types of areas.

“However, in this case the associated desensitisation to warning signs such as poor hygiene and poor home conditions may have run concurrently with desensitisation to substance misuse and its impact on families, lack of emotional warmth and a general stability for children. Professionals may regularly see families living in these environments and facing similar challenges but that should not become the expectation which then becomes the norm.”

She concluded: “Looking back on some of the specific experiences of the children, the participants could clearly see the unacceptable environment in which the children had been living. However, the cumulative harm with which they lived had not always been apparent at the time of services being involved, as professionals responded to each crisis point in isolation. The ways in which professionals reacted and shared their collective concerns did not lead to substantial positive action for the children.”

RECOMMENDATIONS MADE TO CHILDREN’S SAFEGUARDING ASSURANCE PARTNERSHIP

1. Examine the current position relating to neglect in the local area… to reaffirm the Partnership’s responsibility and priority to respond more effectively to children and families

2. The Director of Children’s Services should provide assurance that processes are being conducted in a timely way and any delays and risks are addressed immediately.

3. Consider opportunities to ensure a partnership approach is the aspiration in supporting families involved in public law outline proceedings and related matters

4. A multi-agency audit should be undertaken to address the content and quality of family relationships and safety plans for families, in order to inform decisions for emergency short term placements.

5. Public Health should revisit the substance misuse service commissioning arrangements to provide further training to multi-agency staff

6. Promote the use of the ‘Resolving Professional Disagreements’ protocol and the role of the child protection conference chair as a point of reference for any professional who is concerned about the progress of a child protection plan

7. Ensure that all multi-agency training programmes reference the need for professionals to be alert to possible desensitisation