An Inquest has heard that opportunities were missed by Social Services to protect a baby in Stoke on Trent. Seven-month-old Alfie Smith died on June 2010, four months after he was found unconscious on a sofa. His father, Dale Anderson had fallen asleep and rolled on top of his son. Alfie was given mouth to mouth resuscitation and was rushed to hospital but he had suffered severe brain damage. Following the incident in February, the baby was placed in foster care but later died in June as a result of his injuries.

Social Services had previously been involved with the baby. Mark Warr, Strategic Manager at Stoke on Trent City Council, admitted the Local Authority had left the child vulnerable. A health visitor had earlier expressed concerns about a lack of action by Social Services and the Local Authority has admitted that the severity of aggression between the parents should have warranted more intervention. Last year, a Child Protection Investigation concluded that the authorities had failed to protect Alfie from the risks around him. Social Services had also been alerted to the dangers inherent in the family after Alfie’s mother Sheree Smith, 19, was arrested for being drunk in charge of her child. She also attempted to stab Mr Anderson, after which 2-month old Alfie was removed from his parents’ care and put in the care of his maternal grandmother Patricia Owen by Social Services.

On the night of the incident involving Alfie, Mrs Owen had returned from a night out at around midnight to find Alfie in a baby bouncer in the living room with his father. The baby would usually sleep in a cot in Mrs Owen’s bedroom and she told Mr Anderson to bring Alfie up to her. In the middle of the night, she realised Alfie wasn’t in her bedroom, however, and went downstairs to find Mr Anderson lying on the sofa asleep, with Alfie lying face down on the settee. The father had fallen asleep and rolled onto the baby who was unconscious and not breathing. Whilst a blood test found no alcohol in Mr Anderson’s system, there were traces of cannabis.

The inquest heard there was a lack of “joined up” contact between a number of agencies who were dealing with Alfie and his immediate family, and that no-one had an overall view of the potential risks and dangers in the situation. It is arguable that this baby should never have been placed with the maternal grandmother. Coroner Ian Smith questioned whether looking after Alfie on a semi-permanent basis was a “bridge too far” for Mrs Owen and if she should have been given some extra help to cope.

Alfie’s mother who left school at 14 and was 17 when Alfie was born, is now serving a life sentence for the murder of a neighbour in a street stabbing incident five months after the death of her son. Alfie’s mother was also known to have a history of alcohol-related issues. The child in this case was evidently in severe danger and there were multiple indicators of this to Social Services. The inquest had previously heard that even if he had survived, Alfie would have been left disabled and his quality of life would have been poor. The inquest has been adjourned and a verdict is expected on 11 April.

We see these failings by Social Services far too often here at Farleys. In cases like this where the family is already known to Social Services due to violence or failings to adequately care for a child, council services are needed to ensure that the child is cared for and his or her 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.