The death of a two-year-old girl who was smothered by her paranoid schizophrenic mother was “possibly preventable”, an official review of the tragedy has found.
Sonia Bellfield, 31, was sectioned under the Mental Health Act after she admitted killing her daughter Jasmine in their West Yorkshire home last year.
A psychiatric nurse and a care worker had visited the house only hours before the killing, but they turned away without seeing the girl after Bellfield became angry and refused to let them in.
When police, mental health experts and social workers returned the next day, Bellfield answered the door covered in blood, having stabbed herself. Jasmine’s body was upstairs.
Now a panel of child protection experts has concluded that the outcome of the case “may have been different” if authorities had done more on the night Bellfield refused help.
Their report, published almost two years after the tragedy, makes 26 recommendations, demanding improvement from social services and health bodies serving Kirklees.
On February 17, last year, after Bellfield had enquired about finding a nursery place for her daughter, two health visitors came to the house in Naylor Court, Dewsbury, to assess the family’s needs.
They became worried during the meeting because Bellfield would not look them in the eye, Jasmine was undressed and the house was dark inside, with all the curtains and blinds drawn.
Bellfield’s conversation was “out of touch with reality”, they noted, and “she alternated between smiling and scowling”.
Jasmine held onto the hand of one of the health workers as they got up to leave, giving them the impression that she did not want to be left alone with her mother.
But the panel found there was a delay in the case being referred to other agencies, which meant the true urgency of the crisis was not properly understood.
When Bellfield refused to open her door at 9pm on February 18, no-one sought to force their way in because they feared it would inflame the situation.
Shortly afterwards, Bellfield put her hand over her sleeping daughter’s nose and mouth, killing her. She then took an overdose of her anti-psychotic medication before lying beside Jasmine and stabbing herself.
Bellfield, who admitted manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, said she had believed the FBI were coming to take her daughter and voices had told her to save her from them.
Bellfield’s mental health problems had been known to the authorities since 2000, but she had suffered no “significant psychotic episodes” for eight years until her condition deteriorated rapidly in the days before her daughter’s death.
Jasmine was put on a child protection plan in October 2007 but taken off the register within a year after social workers were satisfied that Bellfield always put her daughter’s needs first and kept the house clean and warm.
Bron Sanders, the independent chairman of Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board, which published the report, said: “The review highlights many examples of good practice and we agree that the case’s outcome was not the result of any systemic failures.
“At the same time, we acknowledge that more could, and should, have been done to prevent the case from reaching crisis point.”
The board has drawn up an action plan in response to the tragedy and all the recommendations have been carried out.
Ms Sanders said working practices had been changed to ensure a better focus on children’s needs and updated training for conducting home visits and dealing with emergency situations. She added: “Many different agencies were involved in this case and our shared commitment to safeguarding children has never been stronger.”