A NEWBORN baby was left in the care of his homeless, alcoholic mother, following a catalogue of failings by health and social services.

A serious case review into the death of the child, known only as Baby Robert, revealed the blunders by agencies involved in his care.

It found the child’s mother was not automatically referred to social services, despite having a history of personal problems.

Baby Robert was just 34 days old when he died in Southend in 2009.

His lifeless body was found in bed with his mother, who had “consumed a large amount of alcohol the night before his death”.

The review by the Local Children Safeguarding Board, headed by Southend Council, was carried out in 2010, but only came to the Echo’s attention after someone alerted the paper. At the time of Baby Robert’s death, Southend Council was said to have been swamped with additional work due to the publicity surrounding the death of Baby P in Haringey, North London.

Baby P died in 2007, triggering a rise in referrals to social services from 2008.

His treatment sparked national debate and was taken up in Parliament due to the failings of the care service.

The review into the Southend case concluded the mother was known to social services, having been in and out of care herself. She had a history of alcohol abuse, self-harm, multiple pregnancies, terminations and criminal convictions.

While pregnant, she was deemed to have made herself intentionally homeless, so little was done to help the woman and her unborn child, beyond arranging short-term stays in hostels. This made it more difficult for health visitors to keep track of her.

The review found the mother suffered mental illness, as well as domestic and substance abuse. Even though these factors should have triggered a referral to social services, none was made.

The review also revealed maternity services did not flag up her case and agencies including social services, primary care services, the probation service and health visitors failed to access the mother’s copious past records.

The child had not even been registered with a GP.

The report said a witness, known to police, was said to have contacted social services three days before Baby Robert’s death, raising concerns.

The review concluded local health services had become too “desensitised” after dealing with high numbers of homeless patients affected by domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health problems.

The summary said: “The high level of need made it even more difficult to identify the most vulnerable of these individuals, resulting in the mother’s unborn child’s needs being minimised.”

It said social services had focused too much on the homelessness of the mother, and added “other services had failed to recognise the safeguarding needs of Baby Robert”.

The damning review has not been discussed publicly, but agencies have worked towards changing the approach to such cases.


SOUTHEND Council has said improvements have been made since the tragedy. Bosses said there were many more referrals after the death of Baby P and many careworkers left the profession because of the case.

However, corporate director for children and learning, Sue Cook, said new measures have now been put in place to cope with increased demand.

She said: “Following the publicity surrounding the Baby Peter case, local authorities saw significant increases in referrals from agencies and the public as a result of the heightened awareness.

“However, the impact of the coverage in the context of the already very challenging role of social workers had the unintended consequence of seeing further staff leave the profession.

“As a result, local authorities were coping with increased demand at a time when there was a growing national shortage of social workers.

“This impact did not pass Southend by, although we were fortunate that, due to the strength of our partnership working, we did not experience such acute difficulties as other areas.

“It did, however, place pressure on our recording systems and information sharing, which was identified in the Baby Robert Serious Case Review.

“We introduced new arrangements in the summer of 2010 to better cope with large fluctuations in demand.

“We have a very stable and committed workforce with a staff turnover rate of 3.6 per cent, which is extremely low for social work. We are very proud of our social workers.”