THE death of toddler Declan Hainey could have been avoided if care agencies had properly supervised his drug-addict mother, a fatal accident inquiry has ruled.
Sheriff Ruth Anderson QC said “prolonged neglect” and a series of failures by social workers and health staff led to the death of the two-year-old, who was found dead in a cot at his Renfrewshire home in 2010.
Mother Kimberley Hainey, 38, was charged with murder and perverting the course of justice and found guilty after a trial at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2011.
The conviction was quashed by appeal court judges last year.
Images released during the trial showed a cot strewn with rubbish, including empty bottles of cider, and surrounded by bottles of vodka. Declan was found eight months after he was last seen alive.
Writing in The Scotsman today, Trisha Hall, manager at the Scottish Association of Social Work, warns that those in the profession face “too much time spent on forms” to properly “assess a child’s true circumstances”.
She also warned staff are now leaving social work as they are “burning out” and do not have the time to do what they believe is most needed.
The fatal accident inquiry was held at Paisley Sheriff Court over 36 days between May and July this year.
In a written determination published yesterday, Sheriff Anderson found a number of factors which meant the death might have been avoided.
She said the exact date and cause of death was unknown but added: “The prolonged neglect of Declan by his mother and sole carer Kimberley Hainey was at least a contributory factor in his death.”
Sheriff Anderson stated that if medical information relating to Declan’s mother’s alcohol and drug problems had been passed to all social work and health staff with responsibility for Declan, the case might have been handed differently.
“Had the available information been obtained, it would have contributed in 2008 to a more realistic assessment of the risks which existed in relation to Kimberley Hainey’s ability to care for her son and would have continued to be an important factor,” she said.
The FAI also heard how a senior drugs worker destroyed vital case notes about Declan and his mother.
Gillian Turner, who worked as a supervisor with the “family matters” team, which was in charge of Hainey’s drugs rehabilitation programme, admitted she “shredded” her notebook containing important information about her handling of the case.
The inquiry heard that another worker saw Hainey and Declan just once in eight months.
Jill Stevenson was appointed to support Hainey as she tried to give up her heroin habit while on a methadone programme.
Sheriff Anderson said health visitors should have been provided with all information available on the boy and his mother, which would have resulted in the case being categorised as one needing “intensive” support.
She said: “Having determined that, on a balance of probabilities, neglect was a contributory factor, the following defects in the system contributed to Declan’s death.
“There was no system in place whereby one of the agencies responsible for Declan’s well-being was in overall charge and there was no system whereby one named individual was responsible for co-ordinating all available information.
“This defect resulted in no formal inter-agency meetings taking place.”
Hainey was not called to give evidence during the inquiry. However, the Crown summoned more than 40 witnesses.
Her mother Elizabeth Rodden, 57, who discovered her grandson’s body, told the inquiry his death had “torn the family apart”.
She said: “She should be here today to answer these questions. She ruined her family with her lies and deceit. We loved that baby. I can’t answer to her ways of thinking.”
Agencies responsible for child protection in Renfrewshire have said they fully accept the findings of the FAI and have pledged that they will act on all the recommendations.
A significant case review was previously held by Renfrewshire Council and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in 2012, during which 16 areas of improvement were identified.
David Leese, Renfrewshire community health partnership director, said yesterday: “I believe that we have significantly strengthened child protection services in recent years. We will now closely scrutinise the four recommendations of the sheriff.”
Meanwhile, Andrew Lowe, independent chair of Renfrewshire child protection committee, said: “Declan’s death was a tragedy. The loss of this young boy demands that all of us examine the findings from this inquiry very carefully and apply the recommendations it contains.
“We each have a responsibility, individually as members of our community or as organisations directly involved in child protection, to be vigilant in meeting the complex challenges of supporting children at risk.”
Mark Macmillan, leader of Renfrewshire Council, said increased funding was needed as a result and Scottish ministers needed to set up an inquiry into the matter.