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Northants child failings 'not due to finances'

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The serious flaws in child protection at Northamptonshire CC highlighted by two series case reviews of the murder of two small children were not directly linked to the council’s financial problems, the county’s director of children’s services (DCS) has tod LGC.

Dylan Tiffin-Brown was two years old when he was beaten to death by his father Raphael Kennedy in December 2017 and Evelyn-Rose Muggleton suffered fatal brain injuries inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend, Ryan Coleman, in April 2018.

The serious case reviews, published yesterday, found staff had misjudged the level of threat posed to the children by the men and warnings that they may be at risk were not acted upon.

The review into Dylan’s death found a meeting of social care practitioners two days after the boy had been referred to social services when police found him at Kennedy’s home during a drug raid should have decided to make the boy a subject of a ‘section 47’ inquiry to establish whether he was suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm.

However, it was decided to categorise Dylan on the lower tier of ‘in need’, with a broader assessment of Dylan’s circumstances planned.

An internal management review by the council found “a lack of a systematic and consistent approach in the threshold decision making”.

A social worker then failed to have contact with the boy due to resistance from his mother, despite further warnings that he could be at risk while staying with Kennedy, who could only see his two other children under supervision.

Dylan died after sustaining 39 injuries and a post mortem found heroin, cocaine and cannabis in his system. Kennedy was jailed for at least 24 years in October last year.

The review noted high turnover of staff, high levels of agency workers and management sickness, large caseloads, and ineffective case management and monitoring systems had “compounded problems and resulted in a lack of accuracy in identifying high risks or the need for urgency”.

The review into the death of Evelyn-Rose said NHS and school staff had noted evidence that she and her four siblings were being neglected but did not share the information.

Social workers were said to be “over-optimistic” about the competence of Evelyn-Rose’s mother to look after her, despite knowledge of emotional abuse and neglect.

Coleman was sentenced to a minimum of 17 years in February.

Northamptonshire’s DCS Sally Hodges, who was appointed in February this year, told LGC there was no strong link between the council’s financial problems which led to it issuing the first of two section 114 notices in February last year and the children’s social care failings.

She said: “It was because of the failure of a number of people through the whole system in respect of risk to those children. I don’t think financial matters had a direct impact.”

Ms Hodges admitted the workforce issues highlighted in the reviews “are still challenges” and that some caseloads are still too high with cases that remain unallocated.

She added the council was trying to recruit experienced staff with “enthusiasm, rigour and a desire to improve children’s social care services”.

In November last year Ofsted said financial uncertainty at the council had resulted in services for vulnerable children declining “significantly” in the last two years.

Malcolm Newsam has been established as Northamptonshire’s children’s commissioner and the Lincolnshire CC is working with the council as a ‘partner in practice’.

A single children’s trust is set to be established when the eight existing councils in Northamptonshire are abolished and replaced by two unitary councils.

Ms Hodges said the “massive improvement job” is the priority, but discussions were due to start soon with the Department for Education and council colleagues on the development of the trust.

She added: “Turning around children’s services that are struggling is not a quick win, there are no magic bullets.

“We are working very hard to change the culture and improve practice through stronger leadership and supporting development. It will take time to embed before we see a big improvement in practice.”

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