Most children killed at home ‘had been monitored by social services’

Two thirds of children killed or seriously injured by their parents were being monitored by social workers at the time — with one in five on the “at-risk” register.

In a study of all serious case reviews published in the past year, Ofsted found 19 per cent of the 219 children were subject to a child protection plan, the system covering those in most danger. Yet despite their parents being under strict notice to improve care, and social workers regularly monitoring behaviour, they still suffered serious and even fatal abuse.

Of the 219 children, 113 died as a result of the incidents, 44 of them babies aged less than one. The involvement of social services in so many cases suggests that the Baby P tragedy was not an isolated incident. The 17-month-old Peter from Haringey died of injuries despite being on the at-risk register and seeing social workers and other staff on 60 occasions.

Ofsted also released separate figures on child deaths in the past year. Inspectors were notified of 174 deaths during the 12 months to March, more than three a week. These include cases of accidents where neglect is suspected, suicides of older children, suspicious cot deaths and road deaths, as well as killings by a parent or carer. Inspectors said the figures were “roughly in line” with those from previous years.

Serious case reviews must be carried out when a child’s death or injury is suspected to be the result of abuse or neglect. Detailed examination of the reviews in the year to March found contact between the children and social workers in 68 per cent of cases, with a further unspecified number known to social services at some stage.

Domestic violence, drug abuse or mental illness were present in almost half the homes where children died in suspicious circumstances, and sometimes a combination of all three.

Research shows that child abuse as a result of a combination of alcohol or drug abuse, and mental health problems in the home, is a new area of concern in child protection. Experts say that many social workers are not trained to cope with such complicated problems.

Ofsted noted that in many of the families life at home was so “chaotic” it was difficult for professionals to see what was going on. It also noted many recurring themes: “It is very striking when one studies the emerging lessons that very few of them are new,” the report said.

“It is distressing to read, for example, how often nobody thought to ask a child, who was clearly demonstrating how unhappy they were, what was wrong.”

But the report criticised some outside agencies for failing to pass on vital information — in particular adult mental health services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres. The Conservatives said the findings “set off all sorts of alarm bells”.

Tim Loughton, the Shadow Children’s Minister, said: “It is deeply worrying that so many children have been killed, but it is completely unacceptable that so many have died whilst on social services’ radar.

“Child protection clearly needs a shot in the arm. The Government must cut back its highly restrictive bureaucracy that means social workers spend up to 80 per cent of their time in the office and not on the beat where they belong.” The Conservatives want all reviews published in full, not just executive summaries.

In all, Ofsted judged 34 per cent of the reviews to be inadequate, largely because they lacked rigour. This compares with 40 per cent last year.

Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said it was encouraging that more reviews were being conducted.

“There are encouraging signs of improvement in this report. Agencies and local authorities are looking more rigorously at their processes and practices. However, more work needs to be done.”