Children in care 'at risk due to delayed report'

An Essex councillor has warned children in care might be at risk because of delays in completing a report into the death of a teenager.

Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Watkins, from Braintree, had been placed in a care home in Suffolk by Essex County Council, but was found hanged in June last year.

More than a year after her death a serious case review has still not been completed, BBC Essex has learned.

An inquest has also yet to be held.

Essex Safeguarding Children Board said "urgent changes" had already been made.

'Endangering lives'

Concerned councillors raised the case at a meeting of the children and young people policy and scrutiny committee at County Hall in Chelmsford.

Liberal Democrat councillor Theresa Higgins complained that councillors had still not seen a report and said the delay was unacceptable.

Ms Higgins said: "We have not even got an executive summary from the safeguarding children board.

"But there could still be practices in place that are causing problems for the young people and may be endangering lives as we speak. A year is a long time in a child's life."

Responding to the concerns, Paul Fallon, chairman of the Essex Safeguarding Children Board said: "All children who were in similar circumstances were urgently reviewed immediately."

Urgent changes

Mr Fallon said this was a "complicated" case requiring the board to look at 17 different childcare agencies across Essex and Suffolk, with limited resources.

He told BBC Essex that they are expecting to complete the report by the end of the year, but said: "Any urgent changes that are needed are done straight away as they emerge."

Serious case reviews (SCR) happen when a child dies in care or where there is a suspicion of abuse or neglect.

A recent high-profile example was the review following the death of Baby Peter in Haringey.

At the end of the review, a report is published identifying any failings or problems and recommending changes to the system. It does not establish blame.

Essex Safeguarding Children Board is responsible for carrying out this review and is independent of the council.

"There are two immediate actions that have been taken already during the course of the review in relation to things that just needed to be dealt with," Mr Fallon added, but declined to say what those actions were.

Voluntary agreement

Rebecca Watkins was placed in a home outside the county and, after she died in June 2009, a spokesperson from Essex County Council said the care arrangements were "voluntary and with the agreement of her family".

Some councillors, including Labour councillor Julie Young, raised concerns that placing children in care homes outside Essex was potentially damaging to them, as they would be away from loved ones.

The county councillor responsible for children's services at the time, Peter Martin, said that children placed outside the county were safe.

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