A recent case of child abuse in Scotland has led to calls for an investigation into the actions (or inaction) of the relevant social services. Declan Hainey’s mummified body was found in his cot in March 2010 – 8 months after he was last seen alive. He had been left for so long that his body had fused to the plastic mattress.

Declan had last been seen in public aged about 15 months around July or August 2009. After Declan’s death, the toddler was left in his cot to rot. Hainey had isolated him from family, neighbours and the welfare services. Kimberley Hainey, his mother, 37, was convicted of neglecting and killing Declan at their home in Paisley and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years.

The case is a shocking example of how children are being failed by social services due to inaction and ineffective information sharing between agencies. A Labour MSP has now called for an independent investigation into the death of the toddler. Neil Bibby has stated that he wants answers as to how Declan’s mistreatment and death could be hidden for so long, even though services knew there were difficulties with Ms Hainey’s abuse of substances.

The case also emphasises that more effective communication methods are needed between the agencies involved. Information sharing systems need to be improved to allow for greater protection of children in cases where neglect has been identified. Mr Bibby said he would like to see police called in cases where social workers are denied access to a vulnerable child more than twice.

During her pregnancy, Hainey was given help by social workers at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and after Declan’s birth she was put on a methadone programme but signed off by social workers who described Declan as “a much-cared for child”. What the social workers didn’t realise was that after Declan’s first birthday, Hainey was increasingly distancing herself from her family and neglecting her child. Hainey was placed on a drugs project called Family Matters which counsels drug-addict mothers and tries to wean them off heroin but she constantly lied to the drugs counsellor and made numerous excuses to prevent the counsellor visiting the flat. She did not want to have anything to do with social workers. Family Matters spoke to other agencies before closing Hainey’s case. No concerns were raised.

Bibby wants the role of Renfrewshire Council and the local health board to come under scrutiny. Hainey was lying to her family, her neighbours and welfare authorities, going out without Declan, and claiming he was at nursery or staying with relatives or friends. Hainey was, in fact, out enjoying herself, taking drink and drugs and seeing men. Her son was left alone during this time without food or water, sometimes for as long two days. The photos of the flat released this week by The Crown Office illustrate the true extent of the suffering and neglect that must have taken place.

Although social services (apart from the social workers at the RAH) were not directly involved with the case until a later date there are still numerous questions that need answering. Are services coping with the demands placed upon them in the light of recent council cutbacks and staff redundancies? Information sharing and communication between agencies is also a concern. As a solicitor specialising in child abuse claims, I see this happen far too frequently.

Also, in cases like Declan’s, where the mother is known to Social Services because of addiction to drugs or alcohol, health and council services are needed to provide extra assistance and to ensure that children are cared for and their health and development monitored.

If you feel that you have suffered as a result of the negligence of a social worker or the service as a whole, our solicitors will be able to advise you as to whether you may be able to make a claim for compensation against social services.