Northamptonshire child protection teams 'could not have predicted' death of six-week-old baby suffocated in bed with drunk parents, says official review

Report criticises lack of action over school flagging infant's siblings were 'unkempt, dirty and smelling of urine'

By Kevin Nicholls
Wednesday, 8th December 2021, 1:13 pm

An independent review says child protection agencies in Northamptonshire could not have predicted the death of a six-week-old baby girl who suffocated while in bed with her drunk parents.

A Child Safeguarding Practice Review published on Wednesday (December 8) revealed how the tot — known only as 'Child Ay' — was found lifeless after her parents returned from a boozy night out and fell asleep in October 2019.

Investigations later found the girl's father was a regular drug user and had taken drugs during the night out.

Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership published the review into the death of a six-week old baby in 2019.

Both parents were later charged with neglect and sentenced at Northampton Crown Court in June this year, when a judge described them as 'otherwise exceptional.'

The official review — one of two released this morning covering deaths of children in Northamptonshire — warns lessons needed to be learned in dealing with vulnerable parents and doing more to highlight the risks of co-sleeping with small children, particularly when alcohol and drugs are a factor.

A spokesman for the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Childcare Partnership — which comprises local councils, NHS groups and the Northamptonshire Children's Trust — said: “We welcome the findings of this report following the tragic death of 'Child Ay' and note the recommendations made to improve our understanding of the concerns raised, including neglect.

“While the review notes that professionals could not have been expected to have predicted the death of this baby, we will pick up the learning from this case and ensure it is fed back to partners working in the safeguarding space in Northamptonshire.”

The report reveals 'Child Ay’s' mother and father went out to celebrate a family occasion, leaving the baby and its siblings in the care of a grandmother.

It adds: "By the time they arrived home, both mother and father had consumed a large quantity of alcohol. Both parents fell into a deep sleep. The following morning 'Child Ay' was found lifeless in the parental bed, having died during the night.

■ Charity the Lullaby Trust provides expert advice on safer sleep for babies and offers emotional support for bereaved families

"'Child Ay' was of an age where she would have required feeding, changing and settling attention during the night after the parents returned from their night out.

"It may not have occurred to parents that the influence of alcohol on their behaviour and ability to wake up at baby’s distress during night-time would be compromised by their level of intoxication."

According to the inspector, the siblings' school had flagged consistent low-level neglect in the form of poor hygiene and children being unkempt, dirty and smelling of urine.

Police who attended the family's small flat found plastic bags full of rubbish scattered across the apartment. They also described living conditions as poor and the family showing signs of living in poverty.

The review highlighted a lack of awareness of the mother's learning difficulties or disabilities and criticises agencies for not acting on the school reports.

It states: “It is not unusual for agencies to have differing views and standards in relation to living conditions. That is why it is important, in particular in relation to neglect, that tools are used to provide consistency.”

The report also recommends that the NSCP ensures professionals have a stronger understanding of learning difficulties and disability; and there is a better professional understanding of parental alcohol misuse and how this can be harmful to children.

It adds: "The NSCP needs to ensure professionals review their neglect training so it is multi-agency and focused on consistency."

READ MORE: "Recent Ofsted visits found our services are improving but we know that there are still areas to work on," says Children's Trust chair