Child protection agencies failed son of drug addict, review finds

Posted: 5th September 2022

A severely asthmatic seven-year-old boy who died “gasping for air” alone at night was failed by child protection agencies who “could and should have done better”, a serious case review has found.

Hakeem Hussain died in the garden of an address where he was staying with his mother, Laura Heath, 40, in the early hours of 26 November 2017.

Heath, who was a heroin addict, was jailed this year for gross negligence manslaughter after being convicted by a jury at Coventry crown court.

“Hakeem should never have been left with me,” Heath told a serious case review into the circumstances surrounding her son’s death, published on Thursday by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Partnership (BSCP).

In the months leading up to Hakeem’s death she was “challenging and difficult to engage”, lied to his school and social services, and intimidated some professionals with her behaviour, the report found.

According to the report, Hakeem had told staff at school when he was six that he was “5% happy, 100% angry and 1,000% scared” and also said: “I have not had any dinner, I sometimes have breakfast, sometimes lunch, but not during Saturdays and Sundays.”

The night her son died, Heath later told police, she had smoked three bags of heroin – two before Hakeem went to bed at 10.30pm and one afterwards – leaving her in a drug-induced sleep.

The serious case review’s independent chair, Penny Thompson, said it was “horrendous” that Hakeem’s “unhappiness and fear of repeated asthma attacks … and the marked reduction in his attendance and performance at school, did not trigger more effective intervention.”

She said: “We have learned all those organisations and individuals who came into professional contact with Hakeem could and should have done better. With the benefit of hindsight, the extent of Hakeem’s neglect was there to be seen well before the decision to place him on a child protection plan two days before his death.”

Thompson highlighted that the boy’s school “did not escalate their concerns effectively” and his GP “did not recognise the need to share important information without consent because of the risk of significant harm”.

She said: “The social worker was trying to work positively with Hakeem’s mother and prioritised [other vulnerable family members] … to the detriment of Hakeem.”

At Heath’s trial it emerged that a nurse had warned that the boy “could die at the weekend” two days before he collapsed.

The alert was made at a child protection conference on a Friday afternoon, which ended with agreement that a social worker would speak to Heath on the Monday, by which time Hakeem had died.

Jurors heard that a nurse, as well as a family outreach worker at Nechells primary school also at the meeting, scored Hakeem’s safety as zero out of 10.

Thompson said the joined-up working needed between different agencies to “enable Hakeem’s needs to be properly seen, and his voice heard, was sadly lacking”.

She said Hakeem’s short life had been lived against a background of his “mother’s drug dependency linked with serious economic hardship, poor housing and personal consequences, competing concerns for other vulnerable family members”.

When taken together with Hakeem’s chronic asthma, the life-threatening condition “finally proved fatal”, she added.

Concluding the lessons-learned review, Thompson said: “A lot has changed [since 2017] and there have also been significant developments and improvements in services.”

Source: Child protection agencies failed son of drug addict, review finds | Child protection | The Guardian

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