Father injected one- and two-year-old with heroin ‘to make them sleep’

A father injected two of his children with heroin “to make them sleep”, a child safeguarding review has revealed.

The sisters, aged one and two, were living in Lancashire with two older siblings aged nine and 16 and parents who had issues around mental ill health, substance misuse and domestic abuse.

Information about the heroin injection was received in 2019 from an older child not in the family but who had the same father. They said the babies had “been injected with heroin to make them sleep”. Test results confirmed it and the children were taken into care.

A newly published child safeguarding practice review written by an independent adviser, Amanda Clarke, reveals that all four children were victims of chronic neglect for a number of years and there was “significant multi-agency involvement” with the family.

“It was suspected that both parents prioritised their substance use over the care of their children, both in terms of their availability to provide care and emotional warmth, and in their use of financial resources, which resulted in times when the children did not have adequate food or warmth.”

Even so, the children remained mostly in the parents’ care until the heroin incident.

The review outlines a number of incidents including a violent domestic dispute in 2018 when both parents sustained serious injuries and police were called. On another occasion the father went to the school of the nine-year-old “significantly under the influence”.

The children went to live with the maternal grandmother but concerns about her mental health and ability to provide basic care meant they were returned to the parents.

The 16-year-old, who refused to go back, said her mother had overdosed and she couldn’t sleep fearing “she would wake up to find both parents dead and have to care for her siblings”.

The report describes how the two-year-old, after being taken in to care, would scream regularly and for long periods, and was prone to “taking food and hiding food to gorge eat, and presenting as frightened that food would be taken away”.

The youngest child’s behaviour in care was described as similar, along with an additional extreme fear of water and bathtimes.

Clarke’s review makes a number of conclusions and recommendations and finds that there was only limited evidence that the children were asked about their wishes or feelings.

The review says social care professionals allocated to the case often changed “and there was little opportunity for trusting relationships to be built” with the children.

A central lesson was the need for social workers to put themselves in the child’s shoes. Often the complexity of a family’s life and the large amount of information could get in the way of identifying risk and that was the case here, Clarke concluded.

The report says the phrase “safeguarding is everyone’s business” has been a well-used slogan in the sector for a number of years but should now evolve into “safeguarding everyone is everyone’s business”.

Clarke concluded: “An essential question to remember for all professionals supporting families, however large or small their part may be in the multi-agency response, is: what is life like for the children living in these circumstances?” That did not always happen in this case, the review says.

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