Report into neglected child who had ‘arms taped up’ in cot finds ‘significant failings by professionals’

A severely neglected and chronically underweight 17-month-old child was taken into care only after a contractor reported seeing the youngster in a cot “with their arms taped up” in a romper suit, a report has found.

Despite numerous previous visits by health visitors and social workers to the parents’ home, Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (NSCP) concluded “a number of agencies failed to take action in a timely manner”.

Its report found “significant failings in care by professionals” who “failed to spot the warning signs that a vulnerable child was a victim of severe neglect”

It was only when the contractor’s concerns were reported to social services by a housing officer, four days before Christmas, that more action was taken.

This came after months of visits by health visitors, social workers and intermittent attendance at clinics, where the child was noted to be “losing weight”, showed “no response to being put back in its cot while wide awake”, and was “unable to stand”.

A full skeletal survey later showed the child had suffered five fractures, including breaks to both legs.

In a number of damning conclusions, authors of the report published on Tuesday, said: “The question has to be asked as to whether the reason the child was not pulling itself up, standing or walking was because they had suffered two broken legs.”

The child – referred to in the publication as Child Au – who cannot be named for legal reasons, is now safe in foster care.

Both parents have since been jailed for neglect.

However, the case triggered a child safeguarding practice review, which has now made seven recommendations including better information-sharing between agencies and more rigour in challenging parents, where there are signs of neglect.

“This report should be required reading for all professionals working with children in Northamptonshire,” the review concluded.

Red flags had been raised months before the housing officer’s visit when, within weeks of the child’s birth, “serious concerns” were raised about the “lack of attachment” from the mother, noted by health workers.

The mother told one health visitor the “child preferred dad”, “hated it when the child cried, could not cope, (and) often left (the child) alone to cry in its cot”.

Months later, the contractor reported seeing signs of neglect including “dirty nappies and mouldy jars of empty baby food lying around”.

As a result, the housing officer paid an unannounced visit to the home, and while there saw upstairs in a cot, the child on a “bare mattress, with no sheets or blankets”.

The child was seen “wearing a baby romper suit with the arms ‘taped up’.”

“When asked why this was, the father stated that Child Au ‘scratches’ themselves.”

Despite these concerns being passed to a social worker, it still took social services a full day to visit the home.

The mother was found to be “hostile and unaccommodating”, there was “no food in the cupboards for the child, no toys visible and no bedding on the cot – which the mother explained by saying it was in the wash”.

The child was “subdued”, with the mother confirming the child “slept on a bare cot mattress with no bedding or cover”.

The highly-critical report also found “the issue of Child Au’s arms being ‘taped up’ was seemingly not discussed”, during the social worker’s visit.

However, the social services manager concluded the youngster was a “child in need” and that the mother and father needed “parenting support”.

It was eight days into the new year when the child’s father told a social worker the youngster had “had a swollen arm” for several days “but was not sure how this happened”.

When the child was taken to accident and emergency, doctors found the youngster had a fractured left arm, needing surgery, and bruising.

A skeletal survey found “five further fractures, all at different stage of healing”.

When weighed, the 17-month-old was found to be just 7.3kgs.

When the child was eight months old, two health visitors had decided against a referral to the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) – seen as the ‘front door’ for child protection intervention.

This was despite noting the baby had “nappy rash”, “scored low in all areas of development”, “did not attend any baby groups and rarely left the house”.

About five months later, a consultant paediatrician – concerned by the lack of weight-gain – urged the GP to consider a MASH referral.

It then took almost another month for a health visitor to contact the safeguarding hub, and then only after another paediatrician advised it “needed to be completed as soon as possible” because of “significant concerns” about the child’s weight loss.

But when a safeguarding assessment was carried out by a social worker, it recommended the case “be stepped down”.

However, a manager ordered another report because the first “had taken so long to complete”, though it was still not complete by the time of the contractor’s visit.

An NSCB spokesperson said it was a “desperately sad case involving a vulnerable child who was subjected to extreme neglect” by their parents, but was “now beginning to thrive with foster carers”.

“Significant learning has been addressed by professionals in the three years which have passed since this review was commenced and we hope the recommendations made in this report will help to improve practice in very challenging cases such as these.”

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