Flaws in care leaver services contributed to baby's death, case review finds

By Lauren Higgs

| 10 August 2012

A serious case review into the death of a baby girl has criticised Birmingham council for failing to properly support her care-leaver parents.

The review said the young parents' departure from care was not managed as “robustly” as it should have been. Image: Phil Adams

Four-month-old Aalihya Jordon-Fellows was killed after suffering serious head injuries at the hands of her 24-year-old uncle.

Aalihya’s parents were aged 18 and 19 at the time of her death in 2008. They had been looked-after by Birmingham council and were receiving support from the local leaving care service.

The parents, who met while in the same residential unit, had both suffered physical and sexual abuse and neglect in their early childhoods and both experienced numerous placement breakdowns during their time in care.

But the serious case review found the young parents' move from care to independence was not managed as “robustly” as it should have been and that all agencies involved struggled to maintain meaningful contact with the couple, who often failed to keep appointments.

This was compounded by high staff turnover, “management absenteeism” and a large proportion of agency staff working at the leaving care service.

“It is clear to the panel that operational difficulties within the leaving care service impacted upon the service offered to the parents, albeit both agencies and the mother herself concurred that they were difficult to engage with,” the review said.

After the couple split up, the father raised concerns with the council about his daughter’s safety, but neither the police nor social workers deemed Aaliyah to be at significant enough risk to remove her from her mother’s care.

“Twice the father made allegations about the mother’s care of the baby suggesting that she was not responsive to the baby’s needs because she was drinking excessively and using drugs,” the review said.

“The father reported that the baby was being left in the care of the uncle who had previously been arrested following allegations of offences against a child. This was reported to the police who made a home visit and verified that the uncle was caring for the baby on his own.”

The police warned the mother not to leave Aaliyah in the care of the uncle, but took no further action. A social worker subsequently visited the mother who denied all of the father's allegations. Again, no further action was taken.

“A short time later the baby was taken to hospital with serious injuries, but died soon after admission,” the review said. “It was later established that the uncle was again in sole care of the baby at the time the fatal injuries were sustained.”

Jane Held, independent chair of Birmingham’s safeguarding children board, apologised unreservedly for the fact that Aaliyah’s death “could and should have been prevented” by the local agencies responsible for protecting her.

“It is our duty as well as responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to learn from this tragedy and to use that learning to improve how we protect children,” she said.

“All the recommendations have been fully implemented by the relevant agencies and over the next six months the board will be checking that practice has changed as a consequence.”

“The report also highlights important learning for the police, health and social care professionals about the degree to which they have to identify risk and exercise ‘respectful uncertainty’ in their work with young and vulnerable parents, especially when those parents are themselves the responsibility of the local council, as well as the need to be robust in challenging each other professionally.”

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