Childminder tragedy spurs call for reform

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The Independent Online

Training and registration of childminders need to be improved to prevent a repetition of the death of Helen Sangar, the baby shaken to death by her minder, according to a report published yesterday.

The report calls on the Department of Health to issue tougher requirements for minders, including a training programme before they are placed on a local-authority register, and the keeping of an accident logbook for children in their care.

David Lane, a childcare consultant and the author of the report, recommended local authorities should allow funds for staff to offer support to childminders, but also called on parents to take a more active role in alerting social services to potential problems.

And he said if proper procedures had been in place nine years ago, the unsuitability of baby-killer Susan Cawthornemight have been detected and the life of Helen Sangar saved.

While in Cawthorne's care in 1984, Leila Ipakchi, two, died of severe head injuries. A verdict of accidental death was recorded, and Cawthorne was allowed to remain on Sheffield city council's childminding register, although she had never been formally trained. Helen Sanger later died in her care.

Mr Lane said: "It is clear that a number of factors around the time of Leila's death could have led to a closer examination of events. In view of the state of knowledge and the systems then in operation, however, it is understandable that no action was taken at the time.

"Since then, systems have been improved and tightened up and if such events were to happen today there would be individuals who would be accountable for taking the appropriate action."

The area child protection team in Sheffield, which ordered his report, has already implemented many of the recommendations. Martin Manby, social services director, said the childminders themselves had been anxious to make improvements although the service remained "critically dependent" on parents in day-to-day contact with childminders to register concerns.

However, Helen's parents, Andrew Sangar and Susan Alston, last night said the report did not go far enough and more had to be done.

"We believe that further procedural changes are necessary both in Sheffield and across the country if the risk of a similar tragedy occurring is to be significantly reduced," they said in a joint statement.

They called for unannounced spot-checks on childminders and for all injuries requiring medical attention to be investigated. There should be a "greater willingness" to deregister childminders.

The couple also accused Mr Lane of "letting off" those who "in our view are guilty of failing to protect all Sheffield children in the care of childminders. If the correct actions had been taken, it would have led to the questioning of Mrs Cawthorne's suitability as a childminder, and so our daughter might still be with us".

Cawthorne, 43, was jailed for four years last year for manslaughter. Mr Sangar and Ms Alston are now considering whether legal action is possible following the report.

"We intend to continue to campaign to make childminding safer so that no other parents have to face the trauma we have been through," they said.