Emily 'fell through the net'

NEW procedures should help prevent children like Emily Wilkinson falling through the care system in Suffolk, council chiefs insisted today.And they urged anyone who suspects a child is being abused to contact social services officers.

NEW procedures should help prevent children like Emily Wilkinson falling through the care system in Suffolk, council chiefs insisted today.

And they urged anyone who suspects a child is being abused to contact social services officers.

The plea came after councillors studied a report into the death of 22-month-old Emily who drowned in a pond at her grandparents' home after wandering the streets unaccompanied.

Her parents, Richard and Karen Wilkinson, are currently serving 30-month jail sentences after being convicted of manslaughter of the toddler because of neglect.

The report discussed yesterday by Suffolk County Council's caring and protecting overview and scrutiny committee heard there were two major failings in the months leading up to Emily's death.

She had moved with her family from Cambridgeshire to Suffolk, and although the social services in this county were made aware of the move, they were not aware that she had been on the "at risk" register earlier in 2002.

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And people in her home village of Great Bradley near Haverhill were aware that she was being neglected and was wandering in the streets alone – but social services staff were unable to prevent the tragedy.

Clare councillor Les Warmington said after her death, he had been told that people in Great Bradley had seen her wandering around the village – she had joined a group of other children carol-singing the previous Christmas but without her parents.

He said people in the village thought social services had been contacted – but he had no firm evidence about these contacts.

Emily had been on Cambridgeshire social services "at risk" register between May and July 2002. She had been in care in Cambridgeshire for three weeks between April and May 2002.

In July she was taken off the register because of improvements in the family's living conditions.

Speaking after the trial, Mary Milton – Cambridgeshire's assistant director of social services with responsibility for children – said: "Conditions in the home and parenting of the children had shown improvement and there was no evidence from any other agency involved with the family to suggest that the she should be kept on the Child Protection Register."

However the Wilkinsons moved with Emily from Cambridgeshire to Suffolk in September 2002.

They were being supported by the social services at this time, and information about this support was passed to Suffolk County Council.

However there was no up-to-date assessment of her situation sent through – and neither were copies of her child protection records.

John Gregg, head of children's services in Suffolk, said: "It's very easy to see with hindsight all of the information because it's available in a comprehensive report.

"In terms of the actual investigation, we were left with no doubt these people (the social workers) were acting in good faith.

"They were responding appropriately in going out and making visits. This is an area where it is incredibly difficult to make judgements in some cases."

Cliff James, head of safeguarding and quality assurance for children at the council, told councillors a lot of work had been undertaken since Emily's death including the recruitment of highly-qualified staff.

He said: "One of the key aspects is children moving into the county from other authorities and I want to reassure this committee that considerable steps have been taken in terms of receiving information, contacting neighbouring authorities whenever a child moves into an authority whenever there have been issues identified."

Chris Lane from Suffolk social services urged anyone who suspected a child was being abused or neglected to contact the council's 24-hour customer care centre on 08456 023023.

He said: "There is a myth that social services is about breaking families up. That is totally false. It is our aim to support families and keep them together if at all possible.

"But we do rely on outside referrals, from professionals or from the general public, before we can know when a child might be at risk."

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