Disabled girl found hanged after 'failings'
Friday 21 May 2010
Social workers failed to protect a severely disabled girl found hanged in her "squalid and revolting" bedroom, a council admitted today.
Dressed in her soiled pyjamas ad sleeping on filthy bed linen, Charlotte Avenall was locked up alone for as long as 14 hours each night.
Her parents' neglect knew no bounds as the eight-year-old occupied herself with few toys and had no access to water or food.
She was forced to use a chest of drawers as a toilet and had covered the walls and ceiling of her bedroom in her own excrement.
Shockingly, it emerged today that social workers knew a great deal about Charlotte's suffering but did nothing.
Six months before her death bosses at Nottinghamshire County Council ordered Charlotte to receive monthly visits from social workers.
But they failed to implement the plan and spot the conditions, described by senior police officers as the filthiest they had ever seen, that Charlotte endured in her short life.
This was despite knowing the child, who had the mental age of a three-year-old, was locked in her bedroom at night and had a fascination with her own excrement.
But instead of challenging her parents about why they locked her up at night, the social workers accepted their claims it was because the child was prone to sleep-walking.
The last time they saw the youngster was in June last year. They missed the July appointment and failed to re-arrange the August visit after arriving at her family's run-down terraced home in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, to find it empty.
Only three days before Charlotte accidentally hanged herself from a cord in her bedroom did an employee at the council ring her mother Susan and step-father Simon to organise respite care.
Despite these shocking failures, nobody at the authority was sacked as a result of the case.
Anthony May, in charge of social services for children at the council, said he took responsibility but it was a matter for his employers as to whether he kept his job.
In a heated press conference, he initially refused to say whether his staff were disciplined but later relented, admitting a handful of workers were either moved to other posts or placed under supervision.
Last month, Charlotte's mother Susan Moody, 24, and 33-year-old step-father Simon Moody, were each jailed for 12 months by Judge Joan Butler QC after admitting one count of child cruelty at Nottingham Crown Court.
But today Mr May said the authority also took responsibility.
He said: "Whenever a young child dies it is a tragedy and I sincerely regret the death of this little girl. Charlotte should not have died in these circumstances.
"The judge said Charlotte's death was a tragic accident, but the state in which she was found was preventable. We have to accept some responsibility for this."
He added: "During the course of Charlotte's life we had been working with her parents to try and manage her behaviour.
"One facet of this was that she smeared her bedroom (with excrement) and it was extremely challenging for her parents.
"We weren't aware how much it had deteriorated in the months leading up to her death, when her mother was unwell and the level of care she received deteriorated."
As part of today's report, the education watchdog Ofsted published its own inquiry in to the way vulnerable children were cared for in Nottinghamshire.
Its findings were damning.
It said the authority's social workers were poorly trained and over-worked.
Many argued about which cases took priority as they failed to make a dent in a back-log of some 140 children waiting to be assessed.
The report said there was a "significant shortage of frontline social work staff" able to cope with the 600-odd children deemed to be at risk.
It added: "The level of skill, knowledge of and experience of social work staff is significantly impairing the quality of service provided and in some offices there are too many newly-qualified staff carrying heavy caseloads."
Since the death, the council has employed 14 new social workers but ten of these are trainees.
Mr May said high profile cases such as Charlotte's and the Baby Peter Connelly inquiry made it hard to find experienced social workers.
He said: "We have put additional resources in to social care at a time of very difficult budgetary constraints.
"I wouldn't change the level of inspections and the rigorous accountability that we are expected to demonstrate.
"However, following the Baby P case, social care as a profession has become more intensive and social workers do feel they are disproportionately in the spotlight.
"Here in Nottinghamshire we haven't had difficulty recruiting but we have had difficulty recruiting experienced staff."
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