http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/14.htm

A local authority’s child protection system is due to come under fresh scrutiny.

Doncaster Children Safeguarding Board is publishing the findings of the serious case reviews into the deaths of Amy Howson and Alfie Goddard, who were both known to the town’s social services department.

The deaths placed the local authority under the national spotlight after it emerged that seven children had died while under the care of Doncaster Council’s children’s services department since 2004.

Sixteen-month-old Amy died in December 2007 after her spine was snapped in two. Her father, James Howson, 25, from Nelson Road, Doncaster, was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to a minimum of 22 years in prison.

The toddler was malnourished and dehydrated and had been punched and slapped on numerous occasions, suffering fractures to her arms, legs and ribs.

Alfie, from the Toll Bar area of Doncaster, was just three months old when he died at Sheffield Children’s Hospital in May 2008.

A post-mortem examination showed he had suffered a fatal head injury two days earlier. His father, Craig Goddard, 24, squeezed, shook and then threw him to the floor after he lost his temper when he refused to stop crying. Goddard had been drinking and had smoked several cannabis joints.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/13.htm

A judge has today spoken of her disappointment that few journalists are taking up the opportunity to report on family court proceedings.

The Ministry of Justice opened up the family courts to the media at the end of April as part of plans for greater openness in the justice system.

But Lynn Roberts, a judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that, after the initial interest, journalists were not attending day-to-day hearings.

And she said it was a shame that journalists only appeared to be interested in the more high-profile cases involving celebrities.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm on the first day – I had three journalists in my court on the first day – but I haven’t seen anybody since,” she told the programme this morning.

“I think it’s going to be cases which are perceived to be of particular public interest rather than the run-of-the-mill cases, which I think in a way is a bit of shame because it would be helpful if the public got an idea of what’s happening on a day-to-day basis rather than the spectacular celebrity cases.”

Roberts added: “We have a very good system in my view and I’m quite proud of how we do things and I think it would be very good for more people to understand how we reach these very difficult decisions.”

Times journalist Camilla Cavendish, who won British Press Awards campaign of the year for her battle to open up the family courts, said: “It is still extremely unclear what we can report on and what we can read.

“The Family court relies heavily on expert witness documents, which are not accessible to the press.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/12.htm

The family of two children who died on a holiday in Corfu have reacted angrily after a manslaughter trial was delayed until February.

Christi Shepherd, seven, and her six-year-old brother Robert, of Horbury, West Yorkshire, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in October 2006.

Thomas Cook holiday reps Richard Carson, 27, and Nicola Gibson, 25, face charges of manslaughter and negligence.

The family said Thomas Cook’s request for an adjournment was “disrespectful”.

The trial was due to start on Thursday but was adjourned until 4 February after legal applications by the defendants.

Paul Wood, the children’s stepfather, read a statement saying: “Unfortunately Thomas Cook led us to believe that they wouldn’t request the case to be adjourned.

“They continue to play these games with the memory of our children Christi and Bobby and we find this extremely disrespectful.

“We flew from England at great personal cost because we have faith in the Greek justice system. Our pain for the loss of our children cannot be expressed in words.

“We wish for the legal process to come to an end soon, doing justice to our children’s memories so we can then try to rebuild our lives.”

The defendants are accused of causing manslaughter by negligence in relation to the children, and of causing bodily injury by negligence to Mr Shepherd and Ms Beatson, who recovered after being overcome by fumes.

Ten Greeks, including staff from the Louis Corcyra Beach Hotel in Gouvia, where the family were staying, were also due to be tried.

Mr Shepherd and Ms Beatson flew to Corfu for the trial, as did the children’s mother Sharon Wood and her husband Paul.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/11.htm

Opportunities to intervene before a 16-month-old girl was killed by her father “were missed” by social services and other agencies, an inquiry has found.

Amy Howson, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, had her spine snapped by her father James in December 2007.

A serious case review found the town’s children’s services team failed to take proper action to safeguard the girl, who also was beaten several times.

It identified “three key missed opportunities” to intervene.

Howson, of Nelson Road, Doncaster, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 22 years after being convicted of Amy’s murder.

Her mother Tina Hunt was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years after admitting she allowed the death of a child and child cruelty.

The serious case review referred to Amy as Child B.

In its conclusion, it said: “The murder of Child B by her father… was not predictable given the information and knowledge held on him and other family members by agencies.

“However, there was sufficient information and knowledge on family members, including (the father), held by individual agencies to conclude that, on balance, both Child B and (another child) were at risk of significant harm from him.

“Some agencies within the Doncaster multi-agency child protection system failed to follow basic safeguarding procedures and did not take proper and effective action to safeguard and promote the welfare of Child B and (the other child).”

The review also concluded an “inter-agency working and communications were deficient”.

It identified “three key missed opportunities for agencies to intervene with a proper assessment and subsequent child protection plan”.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/10.htm

Doncaster agencies failed to follow basic procedures in case of Amy Howson, who died when her spine was snapped by her father, says inquiry report

A series of errors meant child protection agencies missed several opportunities to intervene to protect a 16-month-old girl physically abused and finally murdered by her violent father, a inquiry has found.

Social workers, schools and health visitors all failed to follow basic safeguarding procedures in the case of Amy Howson, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, who died when her spine was broken by her father, the serious case review says. She had been punched and slapped on numerous occasions in the four weeks before her death, leaving her with fractures to her arms, legs and ribs.
A separate serious case review into the death from abuse of another Doncaster youngster, three-month-old Alfie Goddard, concluded that although there had been no prior evidence of abuse, safeguarding agencies failed to recognise important signs that he was at risk. Alfie died of head injuries after being violently shaken and thrown to the floor by his father.

Although much of the media focus on child protection in recent months has been on Haringey, the council in north London at the centre of the Baby P tragedy, Doncaster has been for some time a focus of concerns about child safeguarding. Seven children known to Doncaster’s social services have died as a result of abuse or neglect since 2004.

An Ofsted inspection last year branded children’s services in the town “inadequate”and the decision by the children’s secretary, Ed Balls, to send in outside experts to overhaul the services helped trigger the departure of former mayor, Martin Winter, who announced in March that he would not be standing for re-election.

The review into the circumstances leading up to Amy’s death in December 2007 found social workers and schools critically failed to act on two occasions when presented with evidence of aggressive behaviour by her father, James Howson.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/09.htm

The leader of Dundee City Council today said he agreed with the Scottish Government that a lack of central funding was not responsible for the failures in the citys child protection services (writes David Clegg).

It had appeared Councillor Ken Guild was at odds with his SNP colleagues in Holyrood yesterday when he confirmed the council had set aside an extra Pfund500,000 to help fund improvements.

That was despite the Scottish Government claiming improving childrens services in the city was not about spending more a view echoed by Dundees two SNP MSPs, Shona Robison and Joe FitzPatrick.

But speaking to the Tele today, Mr Guild said he agreed that money was not the solution to the problem and that the Pfund500,000 had only been put aside in the event it was needed.

I would absolutely agree (with the government), he said.

We are looking at ways of improving how the system works. What we have said now is that if we need to spend money rapidly it will be there. But the solution is not to throw money at it we need to ensure the existing service is mobilised so it works properly.

But I know there has been considerable pressure from the opposition politicians to throw money at it. If we do find we need to spend money to improve the service it will be there on standby.

The money has been set aside as part of an improvement plan for child protection in light of this weeks damning report into child protection services in the city.

Inspectors found major deficiencies and said they were not confident children at risk were not being identified or receiving the protection they needed.

The report sparked calls from Labour and Tories for a review of Scotlands child protection services and an increase in funding.

Rory Malone, Dundee branch secretary of the union Unison, also claimed a lack of government funding was behind the poor performance.

http://www.stopinjusticenow.com/news/archive/2009/june/25/08.htm

Social workers should be able to complain without being sacked, and be allowed make practice mistakes in a supportive learning environment, says Liz Davies

I recently visited Maria Ward and Gillie Christou the social worker and team manager, respectively, for Baby Peter. It was how I imagine it might be visiting someone under house arrest. Shutters drawn, secret venues, sneaking out at night when no one would recognise them, and jumping at every sound. I’ve also spoken to Lisa Arthurworrey this week, social worker for Victoria Climbie.

Nearly 10 years on from Victoria’s death and having presented evidence at the criminal trial of the murderers, the serious case review, the Haringey disciplinary hearings, employment tribunals and appeal, the appeal against the General Social Care Council (GSCC) for refusing her social worker registration, and the appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal against her name being placed on the Protection of Children Act list, Lisa is also mainly confined to her house. She is also 10 years older and still awaits GSCC registration three years after a judge said she was fit for practice “as of today”.

This is a very depressing picture to paint for my social work students who fear that when they make a mistake, which is inevitable in a profession that works with the complexity of human beings, they may also be subject to such relentless punishment.

Maria and Gillie have just begun these legal processes with three sets of investigations ongoing. They have already given evidence at two serious case reviews, the criminal trial, and the GSCC and Haringey disciplinary hearings. Thanks to a recent House of Lords ruling, no social worker can be placed on the Protection of Children Act list without a hearing. It is also to be hoped that the legal decision in Lisa’s case about the use of the list for professional mistakes as “an unusual occurrence, to be used only in the most clear cut of cases” will bode well for them in this respect.

Nevres Kemal, social worker and whistleblower, was sacked by Haringey council but fought it at employment tribunal and won an out of court settlement. She remains out of work, despite still being registered. Who wants to employ a whistleblower? These are four ex-Haringey social workers who have no salaries and no professional employment, and three who fear public recrimination every moment of every day.

What can be done to end this misery? None of these social workers acted maliciously in any way. They all worked very hard, often late into the night, struggled with massive caseloads, lack of quality supervision and essential child protection training and practiced in the midst of service uncertainty and restructuring. All of them had previous spotless employment records; in fact Maria was made into a permanent worker after Baby Peter’s death. Having supported Lisa through her various hearings I wonder where Maria and Gillie will have got to in nine years time. There has to be another way.