Social workers did not know a woman convicted of murdering a baby she wanted to adopt was drinking up to six bottles of wine a week, had mental health problems, and was in debt, a review has found.
Leiland-James Corkill was 13-months-old when he died from catastrophic head injuries inflicted by Laura Castle at their home in Barrow-in-Furness.
He had been placed with Castle and her 35-year-old husband Scott by authorities in Cumbria following an application process overseen by Cumbria Children’s Services Department.
But, less than five months after being taken from his birth mother, in January 2021, the baby boy died of “catastrophic head injuries”.
Following Leiland-James’ death Castle was convicted of murder and jailed for life with a minimum term of 18 years.
She had claimed his death was a tragic accident, but it later emerged Castle had been hitting the one-year-old, and sending horrible text messages about him to her husband, who was subsequently cleared of any offence.
Child services were also aware Castle was struggling to bond with Leiland-James.
Following his death Cumbria Safeguarding Children Partnership (CSCP) began a review looking at the services provided to Leiland-James and his prospective adopters.
The independent report found that although processes were in place to uncover issues relating to prospective adopters there was too much of a reliance on self-reported information, which was not rigorously checked or challenged.
It found social workers did not know Castle had mental health problems, was drinking heavily and in debt.
‘Critical information’ disclosed by Castle that she had anger management issues and drank six bottles of wine a week was not shared with her GP, and consequently was not available to the adoption panel that went on to approve her.
Report author Nicki Pettitt said: “What was not known at the time was that the prospective adopters had not been honest about their debt, their mental and physical health, their alcohol consumption and use of physical chastisement during the assessment, at the time of Leiland-James being matched with them or during his time living with the family.
“Learning has been identified that information in these areas should be robustly sought, shared, and considered.
“This is significant, as had the information held by [medics] been known, along with the understanding that the prospective adopters were hiding these issues, the assessment could have better reflected the vulnerabilities and potential risks.”
The child safeguarding practice review revealed Castle was receiving “talking therapy” with an NHS-commissioned service when she applied in January 2019 to be an adoptive parent.
Information held by the First Step programme showed she had issues with “low mood, anxiety and anger management”.
The review added: “This included her self-report that she was often irritable and short-tempered, including shouting too much at her young child.
“She spoke about feeling judged by other parents and that she avoided company. She also reported drinking six bottles of wine a week which impacted on her motivation and mood, although she denied it had an impact on her parenting.”
Castle failed to mention those details in the adoption application process and no safeguarding concerns were raised by First Step, which was not aware the couple had applied to adopt, the review said.
It added the service informed her GP of its involvement with Castle between December 2018 and April 2019 but did not include any details on what was discussed with her.
The report also found that following his move, “indicators emerged that it might not progress to be the right placement for Leiland-James, and that his longer-term emotional needs may not be met.”
Authors added however there were “no known indicators Leiland-James was at risk of physical harm from his carers”.
Concerns were raised in November 2021, and a review by Social Services was due to take place.
During a statutory visit to the family a social worker, who had not met the family before, said Castle had shared she was struggling, and “worried that she did not love Leiland- James as she had expected to”.
Although the social worker raised no concerns about Leiland-James’ care, she recognised “extra support was going to be needed”.
Despite the social worker sharing the information with those at the council, the visit was not recorded.
Revised adoption guidance should include seeking assurance that medical assessments do not rely on the self-report of the prospective adopters.
Following publication of the report, John Readman, Cumbria County Council’s executive director for people, said: “The Castles went through a full eight-month assessment and approval process involving criminal record checks, multiple references and extensive training. No concerns were raised by anyone, in any agency, about their suitability to become adopters.
“What we know now, from the trial and this review, is that Laura Castle deliberately and repeatedly misled and lied to social workers about vitally important aspects of her life, including her mental and physical health, her alcohol use and debts.
“We also know that relevant information about Laura Castle was not shared between agencies and that more could have been done to clarify some of the information we were provided with.”News