TRAGIC schoolgirl Dana Baker did not get the care she deserved from social services – and neither did other children across Worcestershire, a former county council officer confessed at an inquest.
Gordon Robertson, who was responsible for checking up on the care of around 130 ‘looked after’ Worcestershire children between 2010 and 2013, said there was a ‘large issue’ of capacity and big caseloads for him and other staff.
And, when asked by senior Worcestershire Coroner Geraint Williams whether he agreed children across the county, including Dana, were not getting the care they deserved, he replied: “Yes.”
Sixteen-year-old Dana was in foster care from 2009, after she took an overdose following revelations she had been sexually abused by her karate instructor, then aged in his late 40s.
She was found hanging from a tree near the Worcester Road island in Kidderminster at around 5pm on March 3, 2011, after becoming "hysterical" because her placement with foster carers she had come to regard as her family had ended.
After being taken into voluntary care, Dana had no less than five social workers from three different teams, three different schools and two foster placements in 18 months and Mr Robertson agreed there was not enough clear communication and working across agencies.
Mr Robertson, who was independent reviewing officer for the council, told the Stourport inquest he should have made a formal recommendation for a risk assessment on Dana to be carried out by social workers in the two reviews of her case that he carried out.
He said: “That was a mistake, in hindsight, on my part.
“I can only put it down to the fact that at that point I was dealing with so many reviews.”
He added: “The issue of Dana’s risk assessment of self harm did not have the priority in my mind that, on reflection, it should have done.
“I should have ensured a risk of self harming or suicide was on each LAC - ‘looked after child’ - review.
“I take responsibility for not ensuring that a focus on this key issue was maintained by the key workers.”
But he said that, at the first review meeting, the need for a risk assessment was thoroughly discussed, even though it was not a final recommendation, and he still thought that everyone dealing with the case was ‘clear’ about the potential risks she posed.
Mr Robertson agreed with comments made in an independent investigation after Dana’s death that the youngster was not doing any better in the care system than she had before – she was still self-harming and a victim of sexual exploitation.
And he said that "resonated" with the experience of many young people in the care system – not just in Worcestershire but regionally and nationally.
He agreed with Nageena Khalique, lawyer for Dana’s birth family, that was "alarming".
The coroner thanked Mr Robertson for his ‘honesty and candour’ in answering difficult questions "without flinching".
The inquest also heard statements from Tara Kelly and Dan Hulbert, the couple who were fostering Dana in Kidderminster but struggled to cope after she objected to an extended member of his family.
The coroner said that, ultimately, as things became more difficult, they made a decision that Dana could not stay with them, although they confirmed their ‘devotion and attachment’ to her.
Mr Hulbert described in his statement an incident in which Dana had tried to hang herself from a trampoline in their garden in January 2011, two months before her death.
Mother-of-two Sally King, who had befriended Dana and took her into her home after the foster placement with Tara and Dan broke down, said the youngster told her she was going to see her boyfriend on the afternoon she died.
In a final text to Mrs King Dana said: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t ever want to lie to you but I promised I wouldn’t do anything in your house. I love you all. I’m so sorry.”
Dana’s birth parents, Trevor and Patricia, have sat before the coroner for all nine days of the hearing so far, with a photograph of the teenager in front of them, directed towards the witness box.
However, Mrs King said Dana "did not get on at all with her parents" and the inquest has heard the teenager viewed Tara and Dan as her "mum and dad".
Police found a note in Dana’s belongings after her death, saying: “All I wanted was to be with my family. Mum and Dad, I love you so much. Please forgive me.”
The inquest continues and will resume on Tuesday.