Social services failures resulted in 16-month-old girl’s murder

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.

In the first, police were called to a domestic violence incident involving Howson, but safeguarding officials subsequently failed to carry out a proper assessment.. Four months later, Amy’s older brother told social workers at his school that he was worried about Howson’s violence, but again, officials did not respond.

NHS officials were criticised for failing to spot that Amy and her brother might be at risk when her parents consistently refused to co-operate with health visitors.

The report concludes: “Although there was plenty of information to indicate that [Howson] was a violent and aggressive individual and a risk to children, there was no evidence to suggest he had the potential to murder his daughter.”

But it added that that Howson’s previous known behaviour clearly meant he should have been considered a risk to Amy and her brother, and some agencies “palpably failed to safeguard and promote the welfare of [the] two children”.

Howson, 25, from Nelson Road, Doncaster, was later sentenced to a minimum of 22 years in prison. Amy’s mother Tina Hunt, 26, was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years after admitting to allowing the death of a child.

The separate inquiry into Alfie’s death found there had been no assessment of how drug use or mental health problems may have affected the parenting ability of his father, Craig Goddard.

During the period covered by the review, the family’s chaotic housing arrangements meant Alfie’s had contact with 11 GPs from three practices and seven staff members from four health visiting teams.

There were four occasions when children’s social workers had face-to-face contact with Alfie’s parents, the report said, but many of those contacts did not result in “an appropriate, timely response”. The family were never allocated a social worker.

The report said: “The assessments that were undertaken largely relied on self-reporting from the family and presented an overly positive and optimistic view of the family.”

Goddard, 24, was sentenced to life in prison and will serve a minimum of 11 years.

Alfie’s mother Lindsay Harris, 19, received a suspended sentence and 150 hours of community service for perverting the course of justice. Doncaster’s director of children’s services, Gareth Williams, said: “Although there continue to be serious problems in appointing permanent staff to the duty and assessment team, plans are in place and being delivered to achieve a service that is operationally effective and resourced by experienced staff.”