Teenager took own life just five months after being removed from social services caseload

A teenage boy who took his own life was removed from children’s social services caseload just five months before, an inquest as heard.

Jade Hutchings (pictured), 18, took his own life at his family home in Haywards Heath, West Sussex on May 21, 2020.

An inquest into his death opened on Monday in Horsham and statements from his mother Beatrice and father Kerry said the family felt “multiple opportunities” to intervene had been missed and if they had not, Jade may still be alive.

In a statement read out to the court, Mrs Hutchings said Jade’s issues first began in 2015 when she and her husband divorced, although the split was described as “amicable” by both and Jade still saw his father regularly.

That same year, Mrs Hutchings was diagnosed with kidney disease and had to attend hospital three times per week for dialysis treatment, something she said the whole family found distressing.

From 2018 to 2019, Jade was enrolled on a business computing course at St Paul’s Catholic College in Burgess Hill and he was described as “bright” and doing well in school. He also took on a part-time job as a shop assistant at Marks & Spencer.

Later in 2019, he dropped out of college and was fired from his job as he frequently did not attend his weekend shifts, due to going out with friends.

During 2019, Mrs Hutchings realised Jade was drinking alcohol frequently, was found in possession of drugs including Xanax and diazepam on multiple occasions, which he took recreationally, and he was also briefly suspended from school for giving Xanax to another student.

He was assaulted in June 2019, and in December 2019 he was kidnapped by two men and threatened at knifepoint, leading to Sussex Police considering that he may have been exploited by a county line drug-dealing gang. Mrs Hutchings said not enough was done to inform her about these concerns or investigate his vulnerability in this area.

In November 2019, social services planned to meet with Jade every 20 days to assess his wellbeing, however before he turned 18 on December 10 he was removed from their records.

Mrs Hutchings said in her statement: “This plan was not discussed with me and it was decided to close Jade’s case as he needed to seek support from his GP and take responsibility as he was nearly 18.

“Even if they felt they couldn’t assess him after turning 18, no effort was made to continue care or refer him to adult social services – I was a social worker for 15 years and I can’t imagine treating children or families in such a way. It felt like we were swimming against a tide.”

Jade attempted to take his own life at least twice, once in 2019 and once in February 2020, where he threatened to stab himself with a kitchen knife. After the second attempt, he was taken to hospital and assessed by a Section 12 doctor as to whether he should be detained under the Mental Health Act.

The doctors who assessed him concluded that his issues were not psychological, they were caused by his alcohol issues and Jade told them he would refer himself to an addiction support service.

However, Jade did not self-refer and appointments with a psychiatrist, which began in March 2020 and had a positive effect on his wellbeing, had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown that made face-to-face appointments impossible.

Mrs Hutchings said the “onus” being on Jade to self-refer, rather than being referred by his GP or social services, meant opportunities to help him were missed.

On May 21, Mrs Hutchings went to the supermarket for about an hour and on her return she found Jade had attempted to take his own life. Paramedics called to the scene detected a weak pulse so he was taken to hospital, but following testing it was found he had a serious hypoxic brain injury and would not survive.

Mrs Hutchings’ statement concluded: “People built a picture of Jade in their minds based on stereotypes and misunderstandings. He was a quiet boy who wanted a good life.

“He and our family received judgement and inadequate care – as a black family we were treated differently.

“I’m heartbroken by the many missed opportunities there were to help Jade. I’ve lost my trust in people and the way my son was failed by the system is beyond belief.

“I don’t want any other family to be failed the way I was.”

Mental health assessment system not fit for purpose

Lawyers representing the family of an 18-year-old man who took his own life say the mental health assessment system was “not fit for purpose”, an inquest has heard.

Jade Hutchings took his own life at his home in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, on May 21 2020.

Three months before, on February 18, the teenager attempted to kill himself at his family home and he was taken to A&E at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

He was first assessed by a mental health nurse, Curtis Ngwenya, and Mr Hutchings said he felt very strongly that if he was discharged from the hospital he would try to kill himself again.

Giving evidence at the inquest in Horsham on Tuesday, Mr Ngwenya said: “Jade was quite distressed, he said he felt he was a disappointment to his mother, and he was tearful at times.

“It wasn’t obvious to my recollection he had been drinking. He said he had constant migraines, abdominal pain and a right ankle which kept rolling and made him feel quite low.

“He was still saying if he left the department he was still going to attempt to kill himself so I had to come up with a plan so Jade was discharged in a safe manner without putting him at risk to himself or other people.”

Mr Ngwenya therefore decided Mr Hutchings needed to be referred to the Mental Health Act team to assess whether he needed to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

He wrote a report saying he believed Mr Hutchings was a high suicide risk, but was not able to perform a handover as his shift ended before the Mental Health Act assessment could be made.

Two section 12 doctors, Dr Andraws Latif Andraws and Dr Sobhi Yagoub, along with a social worker, then assessed Mr Hutchings again at around 11pm.

They concluded that he was “no longer under the influence of alcohol”, that his presentation had changed since being assessed by Mr Ngwenya, and he was no longer a high suicide risk.

Dr Andraws and Dr Yagoub both believed that the teenager’s main issues were caused by alcohol misuse, and it would be impossible to treat any other potential issues unless he sought help for substance misuse.

They believed that his “risky behaviours” such as attempting suicide would not happen if he stopped drinking alcohol – however the local substance misuse service, Change Grow Live, did not accept referrals and patients needed to refer themselves to their services.

Jade’s mother, Beatrice Hutchings, said the “onus” being on the teenager to self-refer, rather than being referred by his GP or social services, meant opportunities to help him were missed.

Dr Andraws and Dr Yagoub also both agreed that Mr Hutchings should speak to his GP about his ongoing physical symptoms. They sent a report to his GP suggesting that he should be reviewed if his mental health deteriorated, but again the onus was on Mr Hutchings to make an appointment – and this did not happen.

Michael Walsh, the solicitor representing the Hutchings family, asked Dr Yagoub: “What you’re trying to do is go to the GP to pick up on something and act on it. The simplest way to do that is to ask ‘GP, please do X’ and they can choose to act on it or not.

“What you do instead is you write a very detailed report, send it to the GP, don’t ask the GP to do anything but expect them to read a six-page report and act on it.

“In this case no one acted on it. Your normal practice is not fit for purpose for what you want to do, is it?”

In response Dr Yagoub said: “Sometimes a report is not sent to the GP and we ensure the report is sent when we want the GP to be aware of the situation.

“When we discuss it between ourselves we note why we are referring the person to the GP.

“I don’t doubt the intelligence of the GP, they’re medical practitioners, he will have looked at the whole situation and knows what to do.

“We didn’t specifically ask the GP to see Jade. The report showed he had physical complaints and he had not been to the GP about it, so the report is alerting the GP to it.

“I think the GP should have picked it up.”

The inquest is set to continue next week.

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