INVARIABLY, social workers are in an invidious position. Either they’re accused of being too cautious when they place a child in care unnecessarily – or they fail to offer a proportionate response when neglect or abuse appears self-evident.
Furthermore, the increase in youngsters deemed to be ‘“at risk”, a trend prompted by the Baby P tragedy and several scandals in this region, means their workload has increased, and they have less time to spend with problem families.
Yet, even with these caveats, it is impossible to justify, excuse or forgive the many poor decisions that led to two-year-old Jasmine Bellfield being smothered to death by her paranoid schizophrenic mother Sonia in February last year.
Bellfield’s mental health frailties had been known to the authorities for a decade. Those health visitors who paid a home visit on February 17, and who noted her “conversation out of touch with reality”, should have been aware of this. That little Jasmine clung onto the hand of one of these experts was another telltale sign.
However, rather than place Jasmine in care, even as a precautionary measure, the health visitors requested a psychiatric assessment. There then followed a series of avoidable delays. And when psychiatric experts finally visited Bellfield’s Dewsbury home 24 hours later, they did not enter the property in case they inflamed matters.
The following day, when mental health and social workers returned with police back-up, Bellfield answered the door covered in self-inflicted stab wounds. The body of a defenceless and blameless Jasmine was then found in an upstairs room.
Agencies, and there are many, talk about working together – but they did not do so in this tragic instance. After yet another preventable death, this mindset has to change if society’s most vulnerable are to be safeguarded at all times.