Social worker involved in Liam Fee case chose not to intervene after bruises reported
Murdered toddler Liam Fee's social worker decided child protection workers should not intervene after he was found badly bruised, a probe into her conduct heard today (Tuesday).
Lesley Bate was a member of Fife Council’s Child Protection team in Glenrothes and faces a string of charges at the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) conduct sub-committee over her work for the authority between December 2011 and August 2014.
Two of the allegations concern Liam Fee – named only in anonymised SSSC papers as FF.
Today the official who investigated Bate’s conduct during her time in the Child Protection Team told a hearing of Bate’s involvement with Liam and his parents, Rachel Trelfa and Nyomi Fee.
Tracey Burke told how Liam’s childminder Heather Farmer – referred to at the hearing as HF – had raised concerns in January 2013.
But despite that, and subsequent concerns about a neck injury he suffered weeks later, Bate failed to follow up on the case or make notes relating to it on council computer systems.
Instead, she blamed “pressure of work” for her failures – despite other workers saying her case load was not excessive.
Miss Burke said her failings were “not acceptable” and that she should have followed up allegations of child abuse “in a robust manner”.
The hearing was told how Liam’s mother, referred to as RT at the hearing, had fled an abusive relationship in Newcastle to settle with Nyomi Fee in Fife.
Miss Burke said the case had been allocated to Lesley Bate after he had been referred to the department by the childminder on January 15, 2013, with unexplained bruises.
Liam presented as “unsteady on his feet and with bruising on his back. He also had a black eye,” she said, which his mother explained had happened when he fell while playing.
On another occasion, the childminder reported that FF had a “massive bruise” on his forehead and bruising on both legs.
The child’s mother said he had fallen out of his cot and she had found him asleep on the floor in the morning. The childminder had raised concerns about whether the child had been knocked unconscious, Miss Burke stated.
At the time of her initial joint investigation with a police officer into the family’s circumstances, Ms Bate had noted that during their home visit, they found the mum’s account to be “plausible” and recommended that a health visitor at school should be contacted.
However there was to be no further role undertaken by the social work department, the note said.
The childminder later reported the child had complained of a sore neck and emailed Lesley Bate about that and also about a lack of supervision of the child, Miss Burke said.
Ms Bate’s manager, Karen Pedder – who gave evidence at the Fee murder trial that the tot had “fallen off the radar of social work” – had instructed her to speak to the childminder again to gain some information and to discuss with her senior manager whether referral to the department was required.
However, there was no note of any update on that, Miss Burke discovered.
The health visitor was also not contacted and it was discovered that the child’s mum had lied about taking him to see his GP about his sore neck.
Afterwards, the child had stopped going to the childminder and she was worried about him, Miss Burke added.
She said: “There was no SWIFT [social work computer system] notes that Lesley Bate had followed up on the information.”
She added that there was no evidence that Ms Bate had followed up with the child minder about his sore neck and when asked about her failure to record information on the SWIFT system, she just spoke about her own difficulties in coping with the task of working with the child protection team.
Miss Burke was also taken through a series of other cases allocated to Lesley Bate where despite being reminded by senior managers to complete projects, Lesley Bate had failed to follow up on cases.
Some of those included allegations of sexual abuse towards young children and instances of physical abuse including one child who alleged she was being kicked and struck by her grandmother.
Despite home visits with police officers, Lesley Bate had failed to record information on the outcomes of the cases, Miss Burke stated.
Summing up, Miss Burke said she had spoken to Lesley Bate’s senior in the child protection team and her team manager to establish whether she had a higher workload than others.
Miss Burke stated that she was told the workload was shared among the team, sometimes it was busier and sometimes it was quieter, but Ms Bate’s workload was not excessive compared to other members of the team.
The hearing at the SSSC’s HQ in Dundee continues.