Baby drowned in bath and tot’s ribs broken: Sunderland care services come under scrutiny over worrying cases

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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Action plans have been drafted up to ensure risks to newborns in troubled families are reduced in the wake of one baby death and another attacked by her violent father.

A serious case review has today been released into the authorities' involvement with a child given the pseudonym Baby Penny, who drowned when she was nine-months-old when her mother left her in the bath to answer the door in what was concluded by a coroner to be a an accidental death.

Sunderland City Council's director of children's services.

Sunderland City Council's director of children's services.

Another report centres on Baby Nicola, whose father had a history of violence and was convicted of neglect and ill-treatment after she suffered multiple rib fractures.

She is now "safe and well and making good progress."

A social worker assigned as part of Baby Nicola's case has since been dismissed by Sunderland City Council as part of wider concerns about their competency in the job, while employees involved in Baby Penny's case have faced a formal disciplinary process.

While the reports highlight problems as well as good work by the organisation involved in services their families received before they were born and as they settled in at home, both flag up the dire situation the council's social services was in at the time.

Recommendations in the reports centre on improved management and supervision, guidance is given on when information should be followed up and developing workshops which bring together agencies so they can share details and concerns.

The report into Baby Nicola's case also sets out procedures involving unborn babies to ensure the infants are given the best chance of protection after they are born.

Ofsted has since graded the department, along with the council's safeguarding efforts, as inadequate and were putting children at risk.

The high demand for the service is acknowledged in both reports, with a high turnover of staff, pressure of work leading to a lack of checks on assessments being signed off by bosses, volume of work reducing the amount of time the managers could spend on monitoring and closing cases.

Recruitment of another 90 social workers, additional cash, new managers and a greater level of monitoring cases are among the efforts to tackle issues.

Steve Walker, the council's director of children's services, said: "We take the findings of these reviews seriously and our thoughts are very much with the families.

"While there is no suggestion that the action of lack of action on the part of professionals contributed directly to the sad circumstances in either case, it is important that we recognise that there are areas where would could have done better.

"As a council we fully accept the recommendations and acknowledge that there are areas where we need to significantly improve safeguarding services.

"We had already recognised the need for a significant amount of work to improve safeguarding and begun to take action to address the issues it highlighted prior to the publication of July's Ofsted report."

Colin Morris, the independent chairman of Sunderland Safeguarding Children Board, added: "Although the circumstances that led to these serious case reviews being carried out were quite different, we took the decision to publish the two together because of certain similarities in the findings.

"While recognising that Baby Penny's death was a tragic accident and that neither her death nor Baby's Nicola's injuries were the direct result of any failings on the part of professionals, we do not shy away from the criticisms raised by the reports and have taken strong action to address them."