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Social workers could not have foreseen Shannon Matthews kidnap

BASW has welcomed a report that says social workers could not have anticipated Shannon Matthews’s abduction or her mother’s involvement in it.

A serious case review published by the Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board says that professionals working with the family could not have foreseen the events in 2008.

Shannon disappeared in February and was found by police three weeks later hidden in a bed divan in a flat occupied by Matthews’s partner’s uncle Michael Donovan.

Her mother Karen Matthews was sentenced to kidnapping, false imprisonment and perverting the course of justice in January 2009.

The serious case review says Matthews, who was assessed by psychologists of having a borderline learning disability in 1997 and 2004, had been known to social services since the birth of her first child in April 1996.

The child was placed on the child protection register for 20 months over concerns about neglect, safety and wellbeing. He was removed from the register after Matthews attended parenting classes and was believed to provide “safe and adequate” parenting.

By late 2003, two of three of Matthews’s children who were placed on the register had been removed but they were assessed as needing section 17 support.

“It must be recognised that periods of family disruption and inadequate parenting were interspersed with periods when this mother, and sometimes her partners, provided adequate parenting and met the children’s needs,” says the review.

It adds that it found evidence of “a mutually loving” relationship between Matthews and her children although she could not always translate this into good parenting.

It concludes: “This case starkly demonstrates the difficulty of responding effectively to families where parenting is characterised by low-level neglect, which at time escalates into inadequate parenting with detrimental consequences for children’s wellbeing.”

Nushra Mansuri, joint England manager for BASW, said: “It is really important that the public understand the complexity of the situations that social workers and other professionals deal with. As this review proves, the abduction of Shannon Matthews could not have been foreseen by social workers even though the profession was blamed in the press at the time of the incident.

Social workers have nothing to fear from the public knowing how difficult our job is; the profession is often misrepresented in the media and used as a scapegoat before many of the facts are known. Primarily, SCRs are an important learning tool that enable professionals to examine a case to determine what could be done more effectively but they also support wider understanding of complex situations.”