An independent “child practice review” has been published today into the death of an 18 month old baby – Elsie – who was murdered by her gay adoptive father Matthew Scully-Hicks in 2016.
It was established at the trial of Scully-Hicks that baby Elsie had been assaulted and abused over a period of 7 months by her adoptive father and had suffered skull fractures, fractures to her legs, broken ribs, a brain bleed and bruising to her head . The trial heard she had died after being violently shaken.
Elsie died just two weeks after having been formally adopted by Scully-Hicks and his “husband” Craig. Matthew Scully-Hicks was jailed for her murder .Craig Scully-Hicks was exonerated .
Today the independent child practice review into Elsie’s death says there were “missed opportunities” in Elsie’s care .
Matthew Scully-Hicks – a 32-year-old fitness instructor – had sailed through the allegedly-rigorous adoption process . Politically-correct “professionals” viewed his care of Elsie through what the report calls “a positive lens” and considered it to be a “very successful” adoption.
The report says those same “professionals” who assessed Elsie’s injuries and care whilst she was still alive, lacked “professional curiosity” and too-readily accepted the glib explanations for Elsie’s injuries given by Scully-Hicks.
The “professionals” didn’t discover that there was a second fracture to Elsie’s leg until she was already dead and they were carrying out a post-mortem. The report said: “If the original examination of the x-ray had identified both fractures, safeguarding concerns would undoubtedly have been raised and child protection procedures instigated.” – but the Xray wasn’t examined thoroughly enough – and the second fracture wasn’t noticed.
Suzanne Griffiths, director for the National Adoption Service for Wales, said: “There is clearly a need to carefully consider the detail of the review and its recommendations so that policy and practice can be strengthened.” She said her service would continue to work with “the adoption collaboratives across Wales, voluntary adoption agencies and Welsh Government” to strengthen safeguarding and adoption practice. She said there would now be:-
- clearer guidance during pre-placement meetings,
- more detailed recording of visits
- discussion and sharing of safeguarding concerns.
Ms Griffiths doesn’t explain why these elements were not already part of the standard procedures of the National Adoption Service for Wales.
Also in the line of fire from the report is the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board – which runs all NHS services in Penarth and Cardiff
The Cardiff and Vale Board says that since the death of little Elsie “a number of changes have been made”.
Cardiff and Vale University Health Board’s executive nurse director, Ruth Walker said “I would like to apologise to members of Elsie’s birth and adoptive families and welcome this report to support our learning not only in health but from the multi-agency perspective. The report highlights key learning points and we have recognised these and made changes to current practice in response.”
From now on all children under 2 years of age who arrive for treatment at local Accident and Emergency Units (A&E Units) :-
- will be included at the weekly formal safeguarding review.
- All children referred by a General Practitioner with a suspected bone fracture will be reviewed in A&E by a paediatric consultant.
- All X-rays of children taken in the trauma clinic are now reported by a specialist paediatric radiologist.
- Local authority health visitors must share all safeguarding information regarding looked after children with their lead paediatrician.
The Vale of Glamorgan Council’s Director of Social Services, Lance Carver, said that the council “is committed to learning lessons” from the death of Elsie but said the review had found that “the care, planning and adoption assessment processes were followed correctly and were robust”.
Mr Carver is also co-chair, with Claire Marchant, of the Cardiff and Vale Regional Safeguarding Board . In a joint statement they said :- “Ultimately, this tragedy is the result of the actions of the individual convicted of Elsie’s murder, but key learning points have been outlined by the independent review and are being acted upon. The Child Practice Review is an opportunity to learn from the events leading up to Elsie’s tragic death. This is not about revisiting the criminal trial.”
Mr Carver and Ms Marchant say ” From what we have learnt through this review, we can improve future practice, and ensure the effectiveness of our services in protecting children. Changes have already been made in the organisations involved in Elsie’s care and steps are now being taken to implement the further recommendations made by the independent review. It is imperative that we learn from what happened to her’
Independent chair of the Child Practice Review , Wendy Rose, who published today’s report said: “For the vast majority of children placed for adoption, the outcome is positive and they go on to lead healthy and well-nurtured lives with motivated and committed parents. There was no indication it would be any different for this child. In the tragic circumstances of this child’s death, it is imperative that we learn from what happened to her. We found that some systems and practices can be strengthened so that there can be confidence in the quality and standard of services offered to the children placed for adoption and their families.”
However after the original murder trial, one lawyer told a PDN source: “In cases like this what emerges is a politically-correct culture in which people tick the boxes but don’t join the dots. What seems to have been called for in this case was the application of some basic common-sense.” It remains to be seen whether common sense has now percolated into the adoption system.