Social workers in Cumbria failed to protect vulnerable children despite sexual abuse concerns, shocking report reveals

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Gill Rigg, chairman of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board.Photo: DAVID HOLLINS 50076859F004.jpg
Gill Rigg, chairman of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board.Photo: DAVID HOLLINS 50076859F004.jpg
12 September 2017 8:55PM

A SOCIAL services department in crisis failed to properly safeguard two vulnerable young children for several years despite a series of shocking red flags which indicated they were at risk of sexual abuse.

The tragic home circumstances of the siblings, now aged eight and six, have been brought to light in a serious case review published by Cumbria's Local Safeguarding Children's Board today.

It sets out how serious concerns about whether the older child had been sexually assaulted aged just two 'fell off the radar' when social workers instead became focused on aspects of their general neglect.

Now experts have warned lessons must be learned from the case - which saw the little girl and her brother shunted back and forth to live with various members of their family over the course of several years without adequate protection - to ensure no other child in Cumbria befalls the same fate.

The report raises concern over the assessment of risk surrounding the children

Gill Rigg, independent chairwoman of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB), said: "This is a thorough and important independent report.

"While the incidents in this case occurred several years ago and practice has since improved considerably across the range of agencies, the lessons to be learned are relevant today for anyone concerned with ensuring children are properly safeguarded.

"The LSCB has carefully considered the report’s finding and identified a range of actions which either have been or are being implemented that will continue to help agencies respond more effectively when presented with this type of difficult and complex case."

Social workers and other professionals knew the children's family had a background of multi-generational sexual abuse, domestic violence and alcohol and substance misuse, the review states.

The older child exhibited "sexualised behaviour" at nursery and was found to have bruises on her thighs when examined by an expert.

Both children were also seen by a GP and other health professionals after sustaining a range of injuries.

Though they were both subject to child protection plans, adequate steps to ensure their safety were not taken.

The case was described as a "series of missed opportunities" to protect the children - who cannot be named for legal reasons - by children's welfare charity the NSPCC.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “This review highlights a series of missed opportunities which, in at least one instance, resulted in a worrying delay to decisive action being taken.

“The report raises concern over the assessment of risk surrounding the children and it’s important that all its recommendations are swiftly acted on.

“The child must always be at the heart of decisions that professionals make in these situations and, while a considerable amount of improvements have already been made in Cumbria, momentum must not be lost."

Cumbria's children's services was judged to be inadequate by Ofsted in May 2012.

It failed to secure a good rating from the Government watchdog on a further two occasions by 2015.

However, authority bosses claim significant improvements within the troubled department have now been secured.

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