Swansea social services child deaths probe

A WELSH council already under “special measures” due to failings in children’s social services has investigated the deaths of three more children in its care.

Swansea council is to make public three separate serious case review reports into the deaths of the children over the past three years.

Two died due to involvement with drugs and in the case of all three children the council was either looking after them or had dealings with them.

It is understood the reports will highlight some serious procedural issues.

Last year, Swansea council’s children’s services department became the first authority in Wales to be placed under special measures – known officially as “serious concerns protocol” – by the Assembly Government.

An intervention board of social services experts was established to shadow child social services workers and their managers.

It followed critical reports into its child protection procedures by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales which is due to give its verdict on how matters have changed at the council on March 23.

But next Friday the results of the three serious case reviews into the three fatalities, conducted by the Swansea Safeguarding Children Board, will throw the spotlight again onto the authority.

One of the reviews looks into the death of 16-year-old Carly Townsend, who died from an overdose of heroin in her family home in Pwll, Llanelli.

As she lay dying upstairs in May 2007, her 46-year-old mother Andrea Townsend and 26-year- old sister Gemma Evans watched television soap Emmerdale downstairs, thinking she would “sleep it off”.

Swansea Crown Court, where the pair were convicted of manslaughter due to neglect, heard Carly had been using heroin since she was 14.

They told the courts they had “seen her in worse states before”.

Carly, whose father died from a drugs overdose and whose mother had previously been involved with drugs, was placed under a council care order when she was just seven and was fostered.

She also spent time at a children’s home in Swansea.

Carly was sentenced to six months in the Hillside Secure Unit for young offenders at the start of 2007 due to drugs-related offences.

After a multi-agency conference it was decided to release her with an electronic tag into the care of her mother, who subsequently told Swansea Crown Court she had known “20 friends” who died from heroin abuse.

A day after Carly’s release she broke her electronic tag curfew after taking heroin.

A week-and-a-half later she was visited by a youth social worker who spent 45 minutes with her.

The next day Carly died.

Swansea Local Safeguarding Children’s Board, which has responsibility for the services which protect children from drug abuse in Llanelli, carried out the review which involved South Wales Police, Swansea council, Carmarthenshire County Council and the NHS.

Details of the other two child deaths are not known yet but it is understood one also involves drugs.

Yesterday, Swansea council’s Labour leader David Phillips said: “The death of a child is always tragic in any circumstances.

“We will need to fully digest these reports before we can comment further.

“However I am concerned at the length of time they have taken and when the reports come I will be checking in particular to see if they have been unnecessarily drawn out.”

Llanelli Plaid Cymru councillor Mari Lyn Davies is also angry the report into Carly Townsend’s death has taken so long.

She said yesterday: “I welcome the fact the reports are going to be publicised next week but it’s high time.

“If the review of Carly’s death could have provided guidelines for policy on how to handle such cases then it should have been put out to the public a long time ago. There may be information in the review that can prevent such a sad and young death being avoided in the future.

“Sadly, there have been a number of deaths among young people associated with heroin in this area since Carly died.

“There is clearly a problem and we need to learn from how previous cases were dealt with, but we need that information now.”

All local authorities in Wales set up their Safeguarding Children Boards by 2006, with the Swansea Safeguarding Children Board replacing the old Swansea Area Child Protection Committee.

A spokesman for the Swansea Safeguarding Children’s Board said yesterday: “Three serious case reviews are due to be published on March 19.

“It would be inappropriate to comment ahead of publication.”

Before the three latest deaths, Swansea council’s children’s services was previously criticised over the death of baby Aaron Gilbert in 2005.

He died after a series of horrific attacks at the hands of Andrew Lloyd, the boyfriend of his mother Rebecca Lewis.

Neighbours said the baby was so badly beaten he resembled “the elephant man”.

Lloyd was jailed for 24 years for the killing, while Lewis became the first person in the UK to be convicted of the new crime of familial murder for allowing her boyfriend to kill Aaron.

It emerged later a family member rang Swansea’s social services department to warn Aaron was being abused but nothing was done.