Abused girl was left in squalor by officials

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AN INQUIRY into how a three- year-old girl was left imprisoned in her room suffering the "worst gross emotional depravation" ever seen by the report's authors has been blamed on a filing system and not any of the 173 officials involved in the case.

The toddler was whimpering for water when found in May 1996 in a room with a boarded-up doorway. The room, lit only by a skylight, had bare floorboards and was furnished with a dirty mattress. A report into the case was ordered by the then secretary of state for Wales, Ron Davies.

The inquiry, carried out by Bridge Child Care Development systems has exonerated Caerphilly Social Services officials of any blame. Caerphilly Social Services director Chris Lawrence said last night: "A lot of dedicated professionals were involved and no one cut any corners or was slapdash. There is no possible justification for anyone to be blamed."

However, Mr Davies is reported to be deeply unhappy about the way the case was handled by the agencies involved. After an initial visit by social workers, the child was allowed to stay with her parents once her room had been cleaned and the boards had been removed from the door. Despite the circumstances the child had been forced to live in, visits by social workers stopped after six months.

It was another eight months before the next visit took place and the little girl, one of six children, was once again found to be living in squalid conditions. Though she was now five years old she was found wearing a baby-grow and a heavily soiled nappy. Together with her siblings she was immediately taken into care.

Last August the parents, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were sent to prison for six months for child cruelty by a judge who described them as "intellectually limited".

Thirty separate files had been amassed on the two who had been know to social services for 22 years when their first child was born. During that time more than 30 social workers and managers, 43 doctors and nurses, teachers , speech therapists and other professionals had had dealings with the family and contributed to the files.

At one time her school reported a red welt on her thigh: "The school reported emotional, social and behavioural problems in particular that she looks for corners to hide in and whimpers, acts-out telling off, bullies weaker children, is very aware of her body, and resists going home in the taxi," says the report. The papers documenting the problems of the families' children were "spread far and wide and were not pulled together."

Dr Dewi Evans, a consultant paediatrician who has been involved in the case, said yesterday, "the concern we have in child protection work as doctors is that social services are now seen as lead agency and I do not think they have the breadth of experience and expertise to deal with complex matters of these kind, matters which are more within the remit of people with a medical background.

Caerphilly Council said yesterday that it was not until mid-1996 that first concerns about neglect were recorded: "Up to that point multi-agency professional perceptions were of a child in need rather than [one who was] at risk."