McGarrity mum's drug past hidden from school

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COUNCIL staff did not tell nursery workers the mother of home-alone toddler Michael McGarrity was a recovering drug addict because she asked them not to, it emerged today.

They also failed to reveal Anne-Marie McGarrity had a criminal record for assault and being drunk in public while in charge of a child.

A report leaked to the Evening News today also shows three attempts were made to contact health visitors and alert them to Michael's absence from nursery. But teachers at Fort Primary School, where Michael attended nursery, were unable to get hold of the health visitors.

Two health workers have been suspended during the ongoing probe into why it took so long to discover the

starving three-year-old and the decomposing remains of his mother at their flat in North Fort Street, Leith.

Michael, who was not on the child-protection register, was only found by police after a concerned nursery teacher eventually discovered where the toddler's grandmother worked. But when Eleanor McGarrity called social workers, they told her to call police and it was another day before Michael was discovered.

The latest failings, included in a joint Edinburgh City Council and NHS Lothian report, are set to be discussed by councillors in private later this week.

They come two years after the O'Brien Report, which called for better communication between education, health and social services. The recommendations were made after the death of baby Caleb Ness, who was in the care of his brain-damaged father and recovering drug addict mother.

Concerns have now been raised that the findings of today's report showed communication failings highlighted after baby Caleb's death had not been tackled.

The latest report, which was leaked to the News by a health source, reveals that when Michael started nursery, staff were not told about his mother's criminal record, concerns about her parenting skills or why Michael had been going to a support centre for vulnerable families.

Miss McGarrity, 33, had completed 15 months' probation for assault to injury, breach of the peace and being drunk in a public place while in charge of a child.

On a methadone programme, Miss McGarrity was also referred to a centre for vulnerable families by a health visitor. The report reads: "At Michael's transfer from the [council-run] Child and Family Centre to the nursery class, only a written report on Michael's development was given.

"This did not mention concerns regarding Anne-Marie's parenting, suspected drug use or any previous medical history. This was on the basis that Miss McGarrity had requested that any personal information should not be disclosed. Staff complied given Miss McGarrity's progress and the fact that the family were attending the centre voluntarily."

The report also states Miss McGarrity was contacted by the nursery after Michael had been absent for three days, in line with school policy. Following two weeks' absence, staff phoned Michael's home and grandmother but received no reply.

A letter was also sent to Miss McGarrity by the nursery regarding Michael's non-attendance on September 13 and three unsuccessful attempts were made to contact the health visitors' office.

When Michael's grandmother Eleanor McGarrity called the social work department on October 14, she was told to call police and Michael was home alone for a further day before police finally found him. The report recommends that staff receive further training to ensure they know how to "identify, communicate and follow up concerns".

But the document concludes Ms McGarrity's death could not have been prevented and that the extent to which delays in discovering Michael could have been reduced could not be determined.

Councillor Tom Ponton, convener of the council's children and young people's scrutiny panel, said he wanted to know why children were still being failed less than a year after the shake-up which saw the Children and Families department created. Cllr Ponton said: "They keep saying 'we must learn from the mistakes made' but they have had inquiries already and they don't seem to have learned anything.

"We have quite clearly learned nothing from the Caleb Ness report.

"The organisations involved are not in any way communicating with each other.

I think the whole thing is a farce and a disgrace and a scandal."

Councillor Ewan Aitken, the city's children and families leader, said council staff did not know health officials believed Michael was at risk.

He said a decision not to pass on information to the nursery about Miss McGarrity's past would be seen as part of the recovery process if she feared being stigmatised. And he said when Eleanor McGarrity phoned social workers about her daughter, they followed the correct procedure in advising her to contact the police.

Dr Alison McCallum, NHS Lothian's direct of public health, said: "NHS Lothian has not completed its investigation into the circumstances surrounding Michael McGarrity's ordeal. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment until the investigation is complete, but I can assure you we will leave no stone unturned in our search for all the facts in this terrible case."