Calls for Sunderland council transparency after death of baby in care of drug-addict mum

REVIEW CONCERNS: Councillor Lee Martin, who has raised issues over Serious Case Reviews by Sunderland Children's Safeguarding Board.
REVIEW CONCERNS: Councillor Lee Martin, who has raised issues over Serious Case Reviews by Sunderland Children's Safeguarding Board.
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A NEWBORN baby died after being left in the care of her drug-addict mother following a host of failures by social services.

Now Sunderland City Council’s opposition leader is calling for more transparency after only finding out about the case through the media.

The infant, known only as Baby A, was just weeks old when she died in April last year, after the life-support machine she was on after a heart attack, was turned off.

The baby had stopped breathing after being fed by the mother, who was not supposed to be left alone with the child, at her parents’ home.

One of her other children raised the alarm that she had fallen ill, after the woman put the tot to her chest to cuddle and wind her.

Despite the efforts of the child’s grandfather to resuscitate her and being rushed to A&E, it was feared she suffered brain damage due to a lack of air.

The coroner later ruled she had died of natural causes.

A serious case review (SCR) into what happened to the baby and one of her siblings – named in the report as Child C – discovered social workers knew the mother had been taking heroin while pregnant.

Conservative Councillor Lee Martin, leader of the opposition, said he has been told the council is carrying out eight serious case reviews into children and two into adults.

He said: “I’ve been given assurances not once, but twice, that I would be informed of these reviews. But we’re back to where we were before.

“I only found out about this when told by the media and not by chief executive of the council.

“This is a system of failings in a department, a department which we have been told everything has been sorted before.”

He also said there were not levels of scrutiny available to the opposition to call the council to account over such departments.

The baby’s mother used heroin, along with cannabis and cocaine, since she was 16, after the birth of the first of her four children as she struggled to cope with the pressures of being a parent.

The review features extensive details about her chaotic lifestyle, health problems, missed appointments and relationship troubles, along with failings of officials to document meetings and follow procedure, with the woman’s parents raising concerns about social services’ work.

A social worker who had contact with the family no longer works for Sunderland City Council, while the head of safeguarding, who was in post at the time, retired earlier this year.

The report also highlights a lack of oversight by managers, which led to delays and a failure to take action, despite warning signs over six years the woman was not capable of changing her behaviour to look after the baby and Child C.

The woman’s two other children had been taken away from her and cared for by family members.

She began a relationship with the baby’s father after he was released from prison, with their child made the subject of a Child Protection Plan.

Neil Revely, executive director of people services, Sunderland City Council said: “The death of any baby is very sad and our thoughts are very much with the family.

“We take the findings of the review very seriously and fully accept the recommendations it makes.

“The Coroner concluded there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death and that the baby didn’t die due to a lack of care.

“The serious case review did, however, identify some very serious shortcomings in social work practice which we have taken decisive action to address.

“We have acted on the recommendations in the report and a lot of work has already been done to address the issues raised.

“Nothing is more important than protecting vulnerable children.

“Safeguarding and improving the outcomes for vulnerable children and young people is our biggest priority and will continue to be so.”

‘Practices identified in this case are below the standard we would expect’

SUNDERLAND Safeguarding Children’s Board has said the report suggests it is not possible to conclude that different actions on the part of the professionals involved would have led to a different outcome for Baby A.

However, it is critical of the absence of “robust multi-agency collaboration”, identifies a number of things the agencies involved could have done better, and recommends a series of improvements.

Colin Morris, the board’s independent chairman, said: “I want to express my sincere regret at the sad death of Baby A and express my condolences to the family.

“Although there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Baby A’s death or any evidence of a lack of care, it is difficult to say whether any different actions would have had an impact on events.

“We recognise that some practices identified in this case are below the standard we would expect and we fully endorse the recommendations made by the report’s independent author. The most important thing for us now is to take the learning from this case and any future reviews and put this into action.

“The council has already undertaken a radical review of its own working arrangements around safeguarding and those at a city-wide level.

“The serious case review author has noted a strong commitment by the executive director to address many of the issues highlighted in this and previous reviews, which is supported by a clear commitment from partners to support the council in this work.

“The SSCB is working with its partners to look at how we can be sure we are achieving the best possible outcomes for children in Sunderland, and at the effectiveness of safeguarding arrangements across the city.

“As partners involved in safeguarding across the city we are maintaining a clear focus on the work already under way to ensure safeguarding is as effective as it possibly can be, and that we continuously learn and improve.”