An independent review says warning signs were not spotted in weeks leading up to the death of a six-month old baby boy in Northamptonshire in April last year.
The review published on Wednesday (December 8) reveals how the tot's parents hit rock-bottom during the Covid-19 pandemic after struggling financially, becoming isolated and turning to alcohol.
It is critical of a 'significant lack of involvement' by both health visitors and social workers from December 2019 onwards, particularly given the concerns around poverty, alcohol abuse and a mother caring for a new-born baby as well as two small children, one with special needs.
The baby, referred to as 'Child Az' in the review, was born two weeks after his parents had been evicted.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review said: "This case has highlighted the abject poverty of the lived experience of 'Child Az' and his siblings.
"The need for practitioners to carefully assess what can be put in place to support families facing the difficulties which the Child Az family faced, whether the care provided to children by their parents is truly ‘good enough’ and to consider what provision can be put in place to enhance the lives of children facing homelessness and living in poverty is a lesson learned from this review."
Northamptonshire Police initially arrested the baby's parents on suspicion of neglect but no criminal charges were brought and an inquest earlier this year recorded an open verdict.
A spokesman for the multi-agency Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership — which oversees children's services at local councils, NHS groups and the Northamptonshire Children's Trust — said: “This was a desperately sad case in which a vulnerable baby living in poverty has died in the most tragic of circumstances.
"Significant learning has arisen for several agencies in the aftermath of this case which will help to provide a better understanding of the challenges practitioners face in cases such as these.”
Today's review — one of two released this morning — reveals how the baby's family had come to the UK 'for a better life' from Eastern Europe in 2008 but were already in crisis before he was born.
It says: "In September 2019, when the mother was 34 weeks pregnant, the family was found in a local park and appeared to be homeless.
"At the time the father had lost his job and having no recourse to public funds the family had been evicted from their privately rented accommodation due to rent arrears.
"The parents and their two other children aged four and three arrived at hospital A&E. The family appeared to have few possessions, apart from the clothes they were wearing, and the children had no socks or shoes."
Accommodation was found and assessments carried out and the last time the children were seen together by a social worker was at the end of January 2020, when no concerns were noted.
But the review adds: "The assessment appeared to focus on the family’s homelessness, closing the case once the family were re-homed, despite wider issues of neglect and lack of clarity around the children.
"Given concerns raised by police, midwifery services, the school and targeted support services, intervention by Children’s Social Care should have taken place earlier.
"The Covid pandemic resulted in a withdrawal of services, which in turn led to a lack of monitoring of the children’s wellbeing.
"However, it has been learned from information provided to the review that the lack of involvement by Children’s Social Care had occurred before pandemic emergency measures were instigated.
"Given the history which has become apparent as a result of this review, of domestic abuse, alcohol misuse, the mother’s period of imprisonment, financial difficulties, homelessness and the significant additional needs of one sibling, a pre-birth assessment should have been a priority.
"If this had been undertaken, the past history of the family may have become known resulting in appropriate agency intervention."
The review revealed both were said to have been drinking and the father appeared drunk on the night the tot died.
Police officers who re-visited the family the following day found both parents 'heavily intoxicated' at which point their two other children were placed in foster care, where they remain.
It also revealed that the oldest child — said to have learning difficulties — had not attended school for five months before lockdown yet the family was not visited by Children’s Social Care or the a health visitor.
The report adds: "Given the vulnerability of sibling one, efforts should have been made to monitor the children."
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