William Eichler 08 November 2018

Social work failings stopped parents visiting dying baby

A council has apologised for the ‘distress’ of a family who were unable to spend time with their dying baby due to social work failings.

City of York Council has apologised after being found at fault by the local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for not providing appropriate supervision for the parents of a child in its care in hospital.

The Ombudsman also criticised the council for not responding to the parents’ complaints quickly enough.

The parents took the baby, who had a range of health conditions, to hospital with breathing difficulties where the doctor treating him noticed injuries to his ribs.

The parents argued these could have been caused by previous hospital treatment, but an intervention by the council led to their two other children being placed in the care of their grandparents.

Social workers also had to supervise the parents when they visited the hospital where their son was staying.

These restrictions meant some days the parents could only spend four hours with their son. On one day a lack of supervision meant they were not able to visit him at all.

The baby died nine weeks after his admission to hospital.

A court hearing later led to the council’s handling of the case being criticised. It found the council had decided the fractures ‘cannot have been attributed to parental care’.

An investigation by the Ombudsman found the council should have reviewed the supervision arrangements or offered third party services to provide supervision in hospital. It also failed to visit the baby in hospital and the care plan drawn up did not consider the baby’s emotional needs.

‘Nobody could criticise the social workers in this case for starting the safeguarding action,’ said Ombudsman Michael King.

‘But what they should have done was keep the situation under review, especially once it became clear there was very little risk to the child, and his condition deteriorated.

‘This would have been a horrifically stressful time for the family, at a time when their world must have felt like it was falling apart.

‘Social workers should have done more to facilitate the parents’ visits, for example by contacting social workers in the neighbouring authority, or the hospital’s own patient liaison services.’

Ombudsman King also noted the council took ‘far too long’ to investigate the parents concerns when they complained about their treatment.

Maxine Squire, interim corporate director for children, education and communities, City of York Council, said: ‘We are extremely sorry for the distress caused and have apologised unreservedly to the family.

‘We fully accept the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations. We have already taken action to ensure that lessons are learnt from this case and that our procedures are improved.’

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