Chil­dren un­der 6 tested pos­i­tive for heroin & co­caine

Southport Visiter - - Front Page - BY KATE LALLY kate.lally@trin­i­tymir­ror.com @kate­lal­lyx

THREE young chil­dren un­der the age of six tested pos­i­tive for co­caine, heroin and cannabis, ac­cord­ing to a shock­ing re­port.

The two-year-old fe­male twins and a five-year-old boy were in the care of their mother and great-un­cle – who the au­thor­i­ties sus­pect may also be their fa­ther.

A se­ri­ous case re­view re­vealed how cracks in the chil­dren’s so­cial ser­vices sys­tem al­lowed their ne­glect to go un­de­tected for years.

The in­quiry, by Sefton Lo­cal Safe­guard­ing Chil­dren Board, re­ported that there had been hard work by po­lice, chil­dren’s so­cial care teams, teach­ers, GPs, mid­wives and nurses.

But it also re­vealed how these groups of­ten failed to com­mu­ni­cate with each other, and staff changes brought about a lack of con­ti­nu­ity likely to have af­fected the ex­tent to which ser­vices could have made a dif­fer­ence.

The three sib­lings, whose names have been changed, lived with their mother and – for at least some of their lives – their great-un­cle.

When po­lice in­ves­ti­gated the pair over a bur­glary, of­fi­cers found twins “Martha” and “Mary”, along with “Ben”, had been ex­posed to sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of co­caine, heroin and cannabis over a six-month pe­riod.

Po­lice were un­able to say whether the chil­dren had in­gested the drugs, or been ex­posed to them pas­sively.

The chil­dren were fi­nally taken into care, four years after in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the fam­ily by the coun­cil’s so­cial care teams be­gan, when the mother first moved to Sefton with Ben.

Anony­mous al­le­ga­tions were made to a neigh­bour­ing au­thor­ity that the mother had been sex­u­ally ex­ploited by fam­ily mem­bers, though these al­le­ga­tions were found to be un­sub­stan­ti­ated.

In No­vem­ber 2014, the mother, then aged 20, saw a mid­wife; she was preg­nant with twins. The fol­low­ing month, she de­liv­ered Martha and Mary at just less than 30 weeks. Both ba­bies were “in good con­di­tion” and were trans­ferred to the Neona­tal In­ten­sive Care Unit.

Four hours after the ba­bies were born, the mother dis­charged her­self from hos­pi­tal and did not re­turn for two days.

When a so­cial worker vis­ited the fam­ily home, the chil­dren’s great-un­cle, who was at the home, ad­mit­ted pre­vi­ous drug is­sues but said he had been clean since 2011.

After vis­it­ing the twins in hos­pi­tal, the so­cial worker con­cluded there were no child pro­tec­tion is­sues and the case was closed.

Health ser­vices made nu­mer­ous ef­forts to make con­tact with the fam­ily, but, by the time the twins were six months old, only two home vis­its had been achieved by the health visiter and the mother had missed a num­ber of ap­point­ments.

Ben was given a place in nurs­ery but did not at­tend.

In April, 2016, the chil­dren’s great-un­cle – whose pres­ence in the fam­ily home had now be­come com­mon­place – had an assess­ment with the lo­cal sub­stance mis­use ser­vice and re­ported tak­ing heroin and crack co­caine, in ad­di­tion to his pre­scribed methadone.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, Martha was found to have a painful den­tal ab­scess and the mother was told to take her to A&E – but she failed to do so for three weeks. At this point, Martha had to have 14 of her 20 baby teeth ex­tracted.

In mid-Au­gust last year, dur­ing po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions into a bur­glary, CCTV footage showed the chil­dren’s mother and grea­tun­cle us­ing stolen cards.

Po­lice went to the fam­ily home and were im­me­di­ately con­cerned that the twins and adults all ap­peared “drowsy and in­co­her­ent” – Ben was stay­ing with a rel­a­tive. The at­mos­phere was smoky and smelled of burned heroin.

Drugs para­pher­na­lia was found up­stairs, there was no food in the kitchen and the elec­tric­ity me­ter had been bridged, leav­ing ex­posed wires.

There was only one bed in the prop­erty and of­fi­cers sus­pected the chil­dren’s mother and grea­tun­cle were in an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship. Both were ar­rested.

Martha and Mary were placed in fos­ter care, while Ben re­mained with the rel­a­tive with whom he was al­ready stay­ing.

It was known the great-un­cle had a his­tory of drug use, men­tal health prob­lems and vi­o­lence, but not enough in­for­ma­tion was gath­ered to de­ter­mine whether or not he was ex­er­cis­ing co­er­cive con­trol over the mother.

A num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions have been made fol­low­ing the case, in­clud­ing ex­tra sup­port to the early recog­ni­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of signs of ne­glect and the im­pact of drug mis­use, and how in­for­ma­tion is shared be­tween the po­lice, chil­dren’s so­cial care teams, teach­ers and the NHS.

The chil­dren’s great-un­cle ad­mit­ted tak­ing heroin and crack co­caine

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