Children under 6 tested positive for heroin & cocaine
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