Sunderland’s children’s service failed to consult its own independent review team on decision to let tragic teenager Thomas Brookes go home, inquest told

Sunderland’s children’s service failed to consult its own independent review service on the decision to send a troubled teenager home from secure accommodation, an inquest has heard.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 5:00 am

Sixteen-year-old Thomas Brookes was found dead by mum Helen Wardropper at their home in Westheath Avenue, Grangetown, on Saturday, September 28, 2019.

An inquest into his death at Sunderland Coroner’s Court has heard post mortem toxicology tests revealed he died of an overdose of heroin.

The hearing was told Thomas had been subject to a care order, as part of which a decision had been taken by Together for Children to place him in secure accommodation in an effort to stop him obtaining drugs.

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Thomas Brookes and pictured with mum Helen Wardropper (left) and aunt Cheryl Coggins

He had been placed in private rented accommodation, supported by care agency staff, while efforts were made to find him a secure place outside the city.

The move had been intended to last just three days – but it had proved impossible to find anywhere for seven weeks.

Eventually, Thomas had reached a point where he no longer met the criteria for a Deprivation of Liberty order and, with staff unable to stop him from accessing drugs and his mental health suffering, it was agreed he could return home despite the risk he might relapse, as the lesser of two evils.

The inquest heard the decision to allow Thomas to go home had not been referred to Together for Children’s independent review service.

Retired review officer for the case, Carole Dunbar, said she had returned from a break to learn Thomas had gone home without the department being informed: “I was on leave but no attempt had been made to contact the Independent Review Service,” she said.

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She had received an e-mail from Thomas’ Together for Children social worker informing her of the decision and had made efforts to contact him but he had been ‘very reluctant to talk to me’.

She said paperwork relating to the case had not been updated.

“I did get a response from the service manager Helen Monks,” said Ms Dunbar.

"I was basically told the decision had been made by the court for Thomas to return home, but that did not marry up with and conflicted with the file.

"The record in the file did not indicate any discussion or decision about Thomas returning home – my understanding was that a residential placement was still being sought and that had been agreed by the court.”

The inquest heard a psychological report had been prepared as part of care proceedings and former Children and Young People’s Services care co-ordinator Peter Smith said much of its recommendations had complied with the plans for Thomas’ mental health therapy – but there had never been a suitable time to put the plans into action.

"You have to be settled, stable and supported,” he said.

He had passed the case on to colleague Alexandra Wilson after Thomas expressed a preference for speaking to a female worker, but she had had the same problem: “Alex was trying to do the same, to help Thomas open up,” said Mr Smith.

"But a lot of the work Alex was doing was crisis and crisis work is totally different from therapeutic work.”

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