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18 February 2015, 11:00
A serious case review into the death of a Southampton boy has found he was let down by the city council, police and health workers.
Seven-year-old Blake Fowler died from severe head injuries in December 2011.
Today's report by the Southampton Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) says despite warnings, authorities failed to protect him from years of abuse. Conclusions include:
'Child K [Blake] was physically, emotionally and sexually abused, and he was neglected, physically and emotionally. From infancy he repeatedly witnessed the domestic abuse of his mother, in assaults which were increasingly frequent and violent. It is a mark of his resilience that he continued to present much of the time as lively and cheerful, but the failure to see that this presentation masked a lifetime of abuse is alarming. This was not a case which required particular investigative expertise or determination. Evidence of abuse and neglect was repeated and explicit.'
'The local authority, the lead child protection agency, did not protect Child K, despite compelling evidence of abuse. They made fundamental failures - not talking to the child, over-identifying with an abusive parent, failing to listen to a grandmother who had explicitly alerted them to the abuse of the child. Their work was not planned or reviewed, involvement drifted inconclusively and staff were not supervised.'
Keith Makin, Independent Chair of the Southampton Local Safeguarding Children Board, said:
“Blake was only seven years old when he died in 2011. His family were well known to local services in Southampton as a result of domestic abuse and there had been long-term concerns about Blake’s safety.
“The Serious Case Review highlighted several missed opportunities to help Blake and a number of significant failures in our child protection system. The errors made in this case were simply unacceptable.
“On behalf of the Southampton Local Safeguarding Children Board, along with colleagues from the Council, Police and Health services in the City, I would like to say how sorry we are that Blake did not get the help that he needed.
“Our local safeguarding services in Southampton have significantly improved since Blake’s tragic death. Over the past two years we have been working to transform child protection services but we are not complacent. Progress has been made but our work is not yet finished, we are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that children in Southampton today are safe from abuse and harm.”
Alison Elliott, Southampton City Council’s Director of People, said:
“The council fully accepts the findings of this Serious Case Review. On behalf of Southampton City Council I would like to apologise for the unacceptable failings of the city council during Blake’s life and at the time of his death in 2011.
“During the period that the review looked at, the council was failing to safeguard children and urgent action was needed to improve children’s services.
“Work to radically transform the service has been underway for nearly two years and remains a top priority for the council. Across the city we have 150 social workers helping families every day and protecting our children. We have made significant progress, including:
“Cutting the number of temporary agency staff, who in 2011 accounted for more than 50% of all social workers. Now 90% of children and families staff are permanent employees and 82% of those staff have been in post for one year or more.
“Reducing social worker caseloads from 50 children per social worker in 2011 down to between 15 and 25 children per social worker today, depending on case complexity and experience.
“Working with over 1,500 children through the Early Help service. The service was set up in April last year to support families struggling with a wide range of practical parenting skills.
“Setting up the Southampton Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) has transformed the way we work to protect children, providing a coordinated and timely response that draws on the expertise of all the organisations responsible for child protection in the city.
“While there is no way to excuse the failings of the past, we would like to reassure local residents that we are fully committed to carrying on with these improvements and providing the highest possible standard of children’s services in our city.”
Chief Superintendent Dave Powell, from Hampshire Police, said:
"We acknowledge the findings of the Serious Case Review following the death of Blake Fowler. The review made two recommendations specific to Hampshire Constabulary, and both have been implemented.
"Firstly, measures are in place to ensure we are robust in adhering to the ACPO Child Death Investigation Guidance regarding joint paediatric and Home Office post mortem examinations.
"Secondly, all senior investigating officers responsible for investigating child deaths attend the ACPO Child Death Investigation Course and are now trained to the required national ACPO standard.
"Over the past two years, we have worked hard to establish the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs, which have greatly improved the information sharing between agencies. The MASH process is proving to be very effective in developing our partnerships. It is helping each agency involved in safeguarding gain a greater understanding of each other's business and more effective assessment of risk, and this is a strong sign of progress."