Social workers disciplined after death of Charlotte Avenall
SOCIAL workers involved in the care of an eight-year-old girl who was found hanged in a tragic accident while living in "revolting and squalid" conditions have faced disciplinary action after a case review.
Anthony May, director of Children and Young People's Services at Notts County Council, admitted a handful of staff had faced disciplinary action after a review into the death of Charlotte Avenall.
He also admitted Charlotte was last visited in June 2009 - three months before her death - despite the fact social worker visits to the youngster had been increased from every two to three months to every month in the six months leading up to her death.
Severely disabled Charlotte Avenall was locked in her bedroom at home in Moor Street, Mansfield, for 12 hours every night in the four weeks before her death.
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The youngster had smeared her own excrement on the walls and ceiling and was forced to use her chest of drawers as a toilet. She was found hanged her bedroom on September 12 last year.
Social worker visits had been increased to every month because of the standards of hygiene and basic state of Charlotte's home.
Helen Ryan, service director of Children and Young People's Services, said a social worker had arranged with Charlotte's mother and step-father to visit their home in August 2009 but found no-one when they arrived,
The visit was followed by a phone call to Charlotte's parents three days before her death to tell them Charlotte was eligible for a short-break service and someone would be coming to see them about it.
Mr May said as a result of staff being disciplined they had either increased supervision or been moved to other areas of work.
The Ofsted report into all the agencies involved in the care and welfare of Charlotte found inadequacies in 13 out of 33 quality of service grades while another report gave six recommendations to raise standards.
It was found there was a lack of frontline staff and in some cases, staff with little experience overburdened with heavy caseloads.
Mr May said: "We were shocked to hear that Charlotte had died and how she died.
"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.
"All those involved ask whether more could have been done or done differently and the serious case review has looked into this.
"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 said the County Council has acted on the recommendations from an Ofsted inspection in October by investing an extra £7m into safeguarding services. This has funded 10 new social workers and four new experienced senior social workers have also been appointed.
The latest Ofsted report, Safeguarding Services and Looked After Children's Services at Notts County Council, gave 33 grades. Of these 13 were deemed inadequate, 14 were adequate and six were good.
Ofsted reviewed 63 case files for children and young people with a range of needs for the report. They also spoke to 94 children and young people and five parents or carers receiving services. And they looked at the outcomes of the most recent annual Ofsted inspection in October 2009.
The Ofsted report states: "The findings of this inspection confirm that serious weaknesses identified at the unannounced inspection remain.
"Workforce planning has not been effective. There is a significant shortage of frontline social work staff and the demand for service, particularly referrals and re-referrals, have increased by 43% resulting in children not being effectively safeguarded.
"The level of skill, knowledge 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."
The second report, the Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Children's Board (NSCB) Serious Case Review into the circumstances surrounding Charlotte Avenall's death, made a number of recommendations which included raising the profile of safeguarding issues with disabled children and ensuring all referrals be followed up.
Chris Few, independent chair of the Notts Safeguarding Children Board, said: "This was a very sad case and while the courts have accepted that Charlotte's death was a tragic accident, no child should be exposed to the unacceptable conditions in which she was found.
"This is not a case where the parents deliberately set out to harm their daughter but they were responsible for her care and they failed to give that the priority it should have had.
"There was support available to them but they did not always take this up."
Mr Few said the NSCB wanted to draw particular attention to the practice of locking the doors of children's rooms. He said this often happens when carers are dealing with challenging behaviour.
But he said the NSCB does not condone or support this practice and wants to support carers in finding alternative ways of dealing with these issues.
Charlotte's mum Susan Moody, 24, and stepfather Simon Moody, 33, were jailed for 12 months each in April at Nottingham Crown Court. They both pleaded guilty to child cruelty in March.
Mrs Moody was Charlotte's primary carer, but when she fell ill she neglected to ensure her husband checked and cleaned the room.
The court heard how Charlotte's stepfather found her body in a kneeling position, supported by a cord she had tied to a window frame. She had managed to hang herself accidentally. Her pink bunny soft toy was at the other end of the cord.
Charlotte, who had a mental age of three, managed to get hold of a length of rope and take it into her bedroom without either of her parents knowing.