Related Sector: Health & Social Care
In October 2020, bed-bound teenager Kaylea Titford (aged 16) suffered a sad and tragic death at home. Over two years later, this tragedy has resurfaced in the news due to both of her parents being found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter.
Despite Kaylea’s considerable vulnerabilities being born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which left her confined to a wheelchair, Kaylea was reported as being a ‘’fiercely independent, funny teenager’’ who loved wheelchair basketball, and was talked of as a potential future Paralympian.
But the paramedics who discovered her, told jurors how they felt ‘’physically sick’’ by the maggots feeding on her body, as she lay in soiled clothing and sheets. They described the smell in her fly-infested, dirty, and cluttered room as a ‘’dark, musky, unclean stench in the air…rotting flesh’’.
So, what on earth happened for this once aspiring Paralympian to spend the last nine months of her life ‘’hidden’’ from the outside world and left to endure a slow and painful death?
Covid-19 lockdown – not an excuse.
Following lockdown in March 2020, Kaylea lost all contact with the outside world. She no longer went to school or her local sports club. She stopped attending health appointments and had not been seen by a single GP or health professional for nine months prior to her death. In fact, professionals refer to ‘’excuse after excuse’’ being provided by the mother for Kaylea’s non-appearance.
But it’s not enough to dismiss Kaylea’s death as an indirect consequence of Covid-19. And it’s also not enough to hold her parents solely accountable.
Given Kaylea’s lack of attendance at school (for nine months at least) why didn't the school make a referral to social care, or make arrangements for Kaylea to be visited at home? Equally, given her acute medical needs, which required a considerable list of medical provision and supervision, why wasn’t she visited by a health professional on a regular basis?
Who was ultimately responsible for overseeing her care?
Collaboration – severely lacking
News reports have stated that ‘’no additional support was asked for or offered’’. But this is irrelevant, in my opinion.
Professionals have a statutory responsibility to continually assess a disabled child’s needs and arrive at a care plan that truly meets those needs. The plan should be kept under review and if safeguarding concerns emerge, they must be recorded appropriately and followed up.
In addition, if a parent is not co-operating or is difficult to work with (for example, not letting the child be seen or keeping the child away from professionals) then alarm bells should be ringing.
Instead of ‘backing off’ or failing to communicate with others involved in patient care, professionals need to be curious and ready to challenge parents, where appropriate. They also need to be ready to raise concerns and make referrals to other partners, which would then trigger a joint agency investigation.
Communication – missed opportunity
The media reports stated that Kaylea was active on her mobile phone. Given that this was her only method of communication, and given that she was bed bound, right up until a few hours before her death, this was a missed opportunity by professionals to stay in contact with Kaylea.
By way of example, when she was screaming and shouting the night before her death, her father sent her a text message telling her to ‘shut up’. If professionals had been in contact with Kaylea, she could have made them aware of the torture, inhumane and degrading treatment that she suffered at the hands of her parents.
Although both parents have been convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and are awaiting sentence, this is not the end of the story. For it could be argued that other professionals were also negligent in failing to adequately safeguard and protect this very vulnerable young person.
Despite so many safeguarding reviews with similar or identical findings, this tragic case is yet another example of the failures of multi-agency communication and effective response. There appears to be a lack of clarity in terms of who is ultimately responsible. We must remember that behind these tragic failings, there are vulnerable people who have no choice but to rely upon the systems that are intended to protect them.
Author: Francesca Burfield, Barrister and one of Bond Solon’s Principal Safeguarding Trainers
This article was published on 21 February 2023
17 May 2023 14:25
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