THE foster carer that troubled schoolgirl Dana Baker took to calling “mum” has told The Shuttle of her family’s pain at the youngster’s tragic suicide and her hopes social services will “listen and improve” after the damning findings of an inquest.
Tara Kelly-Hulbert, aged 45, speaking after the inquest, said: “We loved Dana so much. She was part of our family and still is.”
Mrs Kelly-Hulbert and then fiancé Dan Hulbert, now her husband, embraced the vulnerable teenager into their Kidderminster home and hearts in late 2009. It was the youngster’s second foster home after she took an overdose in May 2009, following emotional revelations that she had been abused by her karate instructor.
Dana, who had been bracing herself for the trial against her abuser, stayed with the couple until March 2011, when the foster carers reluctantly decided they could no longer look after her after a series of crises, including an incident in which she tried to hang herself from a trampoline in their garden.
The crunch came after the teenager took exception to an extended member of Mr Hulbert’s family and gave an ultimatum that he should choose between her and the relative.
Distraught at the break-up of her foster home, Dana, then 16, hanged herself from a tree near the Worcester Road island in Kidderminster on March 3, 2011, after her increasingly desperate calls for help went unheeded.
Last week, Worcestershire Senior Coroner Geraint Williams ruled Dana’s human right to life was breached because social workers failed to take “simple steps” to save her and protective measures for her in the days leading up to her death were “almost non-existent”.
Mrs Kelly-Hulbert, a mother of two, agreed with the finding, saying: “We’d been begging for help for weeks and were rebuffed and I think social services thought of her as being a stroppy teenager. I’d been wanting to take Dana to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and was saying Dana wasn’t up to the court case but I wasn’t listened to. We felt we were banging our heads against a brick wall.”
Mrs Kelly-Hulbert said the tragedy had been “extremely painful” for her, 40-year-old Mr Hulbert and everybody involved.
Worcestershire County Council said, following the inquest, it had invested a total of £5.5 million to redesign children’s services, including an extra 30 qualified frontline social workers, over the last four years.
Dana herself had helped shape the shake-up by giving her own views of her experience through the county council’s Who Cares? We Care! Council.
The council has also acted on recommendations from a serious case review into Dana’s death, which concluded that the work of the agencies caring for Dana could have been “joined up better”.
The review led to a range of improvements, including better risk assessment and risk management processes and training for teenagers’ mental health. The coroner said he was satisfied issues he could have recommended for improvement had already been fully addressed.
He was concerned, however, agencies kept confidential from each other their own independent management reviews following the tragedy and is sending a report to Worcestershire Safeguarding Children Board asking it to consider sharing such reports to learn lessons from each other.
Mrs Kelly-Hulbert spoke of how helpful Clare Baxendale, foster carer social worker for her, and Mr Hulbert from the Child Care Bureau foster agency, was.
Miss Baxendale often stepped in to provide support for Dana that should have come from the teenager’s own county council social worker.
The inquest heard, however, staff changes and lack of capacity led to Dana having a string of different social workers. During late 2010, Miss Baxendale was told to no longer have contact with Dana because of social services’ concerns she was overstepping her responsibilities.
Mrs Kelly-Hulbert said: “Everything used to get sorted out with Clare Baxendale. She listened to us but she was then told to butt out.
“We should have been given the help and resources we needed for Dana. I just hope now that more money is put into children’s social services.”
Conservative councillor Liz Eyre, council cabinet member for children and families, said Dana’s experiences had “informed changes to services”.