Six-year-old drowning in bath among tragic child safety incidents in Sandwell

A six-year-old child drowned after being left unattended in a bath and a three-day-old baby died in the care of its mother in the same year in a Black Country borough.

There have been shocking cases of abuse and neglect involving children
There have been shocking cases of abuse and neglect involving children

These were just two of eight incidents involving babies and young children that took place in Sandwell and have been revealed in a council report.

The annual study reveals the cases of child neglect in the borough and the task facing social services in protecting children.

In another case, an eight-week-old baby died of “non-accidental” head injuries while in the care of its parents. That incident involved domestic abuse, drug misuse, and criminal activity.

And a seven-month-old baby suffered “significant” head and body injuries perpetrated by its father, who also attacked the mother.

All the incidents took place during lockdown and were recorded as hospital attendances during 2020 and 2021.

That report has only recently been released and was discussed at a full Sandwell council meeting earlier this month.

Other incidents involving children and young people included:

  • A nine-year-old injured by their mother during a mental health crisis episode;

  • An 11-month-old child who suffered sepsis and extensive burns from an extreme nappy rash;

  • Two child suicides

And also reported at hospital, involving young people under 18-years-old were:

  • 10 individuals seen for alcohol or substance misuse;

  • 16 seen for concerns relating to self harm;

  • 82 young people were seen following an overdose intake;

  • 20 youngsters were seen as victims of assaults.

The report, titled ‘Sandwell’s Children’s Safeguarding Partnership Annual Report 2021-21,’ related to all children (0-17yrs) who died from April 2020 to March 2021.

Of those eight serious safeguarding incidents recorded, four cases were deemed “not to meet the threshold” for further escalations.

Three cases have were wrapped into a wider national review, while one case was “reconsidered” with an active joint investigation by a neighbouring local authority.

Speaking in the meeting, Karen Simms, who represents Friar Park ward, and is cabinet member for children and education, said: “This report comes at a really sad time. We’ve called a spotlight on serious incidents and harmed children from abuse and neglect.

“We have all seen and heard it through local media following the tragic death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, in Solihull, and Star Hobson in Bradford. These cases should never have happened.

“The 2021 annual report for children’s safeguarding partnership features a number of serious incidents occurred during the pandemic, all of which have received the level of scrutiny required.”

Councillor Simms went on to describe all decisions being validated by the national regulations as “robust” and that they “fully comply with national standards”.

Children’s services in Sandwell are operated by Sandwell Children’s Trust. It is owned fully by the council but operates independently under a board of directors.

Children’s services were taken away from the borough council in 2018 due to poor performance, with the new independent trust created and headed up by former Labour home secretary Jacqui Smith.

But improvements since then have not been as swift as hoped.

Auditors Grant Thornton said the trust had “struggled to move away from day-to-day firefighting and has not been able to invest in early intervention and prevention or improve and transform to the extent required by the council”.

It added: “Relationships between the council and [Sandwell Children’s Trust] have on occasion been an ‘us and them’ culture with a lack of collaborative approach and joint accountability.”

A spokesperson for Sandwell council said: “Any incident that involves harm to a child is of great concern to us. Children’s safety is our absolute top priority. Our thoughts remain with the families of those affected in these tragic incidents.

“The Trust, along with all its partners, continue to work closely together through the Sandwell children’s safeguarding partnership to understand the circumstances that led to any death; plus we always work collectively to support families and do all we can to safeguard children and young people, especially those who we consider may be at risk of harm.

“Whilst we cannot comment on individual situations, as a partnership we continually review our practice and procedures and publish the findings and multi-agency learning identified to help to ensure safeguarding training for professionals is as up to date as possible.”

Lesley Hagger, chair of the Sandwell children’s safeguarding partnership, said: “As set out in our annual report, the total number of all child deaths in Sandwell increased by four compared to the previous year and almost half of those deaths are of babies under 28 days old.

“The death of a child is deeply upsetting for everyone involved and our partnership is continually striving to offer help and improve outcomes for children and families despite the adversities they face.

“We strongly encourage all parents to reach out to services if they need help – we are here to support you. If you are an individual with a concern about a child you can speak to someone by calling 0121 569 3100.”

An agenda item to comment and improve the report and recommendations was unanimously approved by councillors at Sandwell council.

West Midlands Police has been approached for comment.

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie.

  • The charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393 and ChildLine on 0800 1111.

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