'Missed opportunities' to stop baby killer dad

2 August 2018, 12:55

Elsie Scully-Hicks

There were missed opportunities in the care of a baby girl who was murdered by her father two weeks after he formally adopted her, a review has found.

Matthew Scully-Hicks, 32, passed the rigorous adoption process with flying colours and professionals viewed his care of 18-month-old Elsie through a "positive lens".

The fitness instructor, who had previously adopted another child, violently shook Elsie and threw her to the floor at their home in Llandaff, Cardiff, on May 25 in 2016.

In the months before that fatal attack, Scully-Hicks had inflicted a catalogue of injuries to Elsie including a large bruise to her face and her leg being fractured in two places.

An extended child practice review found professionals saw Elsie's injuries in isolation, lacked "professional curiosity" and accepted the innocent explanations given by Scully-Hicks.

Lance Carver, director of social services at the Vale of Glamorgan Council, accepted the findings of the report and apologised for errors in Elsie's case.

"The findings do indicate that social workers and staff from all agencies saw the adoption as very positive," Mr Carver told a press conference in Cardiff.

"They perceived the adoptive family as a really positive solution for Elsie.

"The report identifies issues that 'that positive lens' meant that they were not looking in the way they should have been.

"That's something as an organisation that we should have recognised and taken that fully on board."

Mr Carver said no disciplinary actions had been taken against any members of staff as the report did not "indicate that it would be appropriate".

Elsie was placed with Scully-Hicks and his husband Craig in September 2015, aged 10 months.

The couple, who lived in Llandaff, Cardiff, presented a "positive and united front" to professionals working closely with them and never indicated any difficulties with parenting Elsie.

The report, by Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan Safeguarding Children Board, states: "The evidence in this case highlights that the professionals working with the child did not either consider or raise the possibility that the child was being harmed by a parent.

"The professionals involved with the child viewed the adoptive placement as being very successful.

"The events in the child's life were viewed through a 'positive lens'. This is the case for the majority of children placed for adoption."

The report revealed that no safeguarding concerns were raised despite Elsie suffering a number of injuries during her time with Scully-Hicks.

Her parents were seen as a "well-educated and articulate couple" who were "very well regarded by each of the agencies as good parents who had already successfully adopted".

In November 2015, Elsie was referred to an orthopaedics outpatient clinic after suffering an injury to her leg and not weight-bearing for five days.

An X-ray was taken but this was not examined by a specialist paediatric radiologist. A registrar spotted a lower leg fracture but not an upper leg fracture.

"Had both fractures been recognised on the x-ray, this would have raised safeguarding concerns that would have instigated the child protection process," the report noted.

"This review indicated that it would be highly unusual for two separate bones to be broken from one minor fall."

In December 2015, Elsie suffered a large bruise to her forehead that lasted for eight weeks.

Two social workers and an independent reviewing officer from the Vale of Glamorgan Council saw the bruise during an adoption review at the Scully-Hicks's home.

They failed to make any note of the bruise and it was not brought to the attention of the adoption court, along with concerns that Elsie was developing a squint.

Mr Carver said: "It is difficult to second-guess what would have happened if that had been recorded properly. It clearly wasn't recorded properly and that is inadequate.

"I would like to be clear that on behalf of the Vale I apologise for that. It should have been recorded properly.

"We have looked to see what improvements we can make in order to ensure that this recording is done properly in the future.

"We are going to ensure that the recommendations of this report are fully implemented."

Wendy Rose, independent chair of the child practice review, 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 that it would be any different for this child."

She described the review as "very thorough and independent", and said improvements had already been implemented by the agencies involved.

Ruth Walker, executive nurse director of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, 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.

"This report highlights key learning points and we have recognised these and made changes to current practice in response."