Mother 'stamped her baby daughter to death' after a 'savage outburst'
Social workers failed to realise a mother who stamped her daughter to death posed a danger to the toddler because they were too concerned about her being a victim of domestic violence, a report has found.
Ayeeshia-Jayne Smith was murdered by her mother Kathryn Smith in May 2014 during a "savage outburst" in the girl's bedroom. Smith was jailed for at least 24 years in April last year, later reduced to 19 years.
Her then partner, Matthew Rigby, 22, was jailed for three years and six months after being found guilty of causing or allowing Ayeeshia's death.
Now a serious case review by the Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Board says professionals should have been more "inquisitive".
It added that too Kathryn Smith’s needs as a domestic violence victim "overshadowed" the interests of her daughter.
"Professionals made much of the positive relationship observed between (Smith) and her child and this appeared to lead, at times, to a prevailing sense of optimism and a lack of professional curiosity about the current partner, violent incidents, drug use and his care history and background,” added the report.
Ayeeshia-Jayne injuries - said to have been caused by a stamp - were likened to that of a car crash victim.
The court heard how she was a "frail little girl (who) was viciously crushed" in her own bedroom, surrounded by her toys. The judge called Smith a "devious, manipulative and selfish young woman".
The safeguarding report, released yesterday, said all agencies concerned with the family had been "inclined to take what (Smith) said at face value".
A summary of the report stated: "An attitude of professional curiosity requiring practitioners to examine the lived experience of (Ayeeshia-Jayne) was often missing by all agencies.
"The needs of (Smith) overshadowed the needs of (Ayeeshia-Jayne) frequently."
The report said the little girl was described by her family as "a beautiful girl with an infectious smile, twinkling eyes and a bubbly personality, a gentle and loving little girl".
The report said Kathryn Smith's lived a chaotic lifestyle throughout her daughter's lifetime, at one stage storing cannabis in her daughter's drinks beaker.
Her alcohol and drug abuse meant she was in contact with various health professionals and authorities.
After Smith was jailed social services came under the spotlight as it was revealed Ayeeshia had been removed and put into foster care when her mother failed to end her relationship with a violent boyfriend.
However, eight months later, Ayeeshia was sent to live with her mother again after she "complied with all the expectations" of professionals, despite concerns from the child's foster mother who said the toddler was hungry after being with her mother for unsupervised visits.
The report, which made nine recommendations, also found that the day before Ayeeshia-Jayne died health professionals had described a "growing sense of unease" about the risks of domestic violence.
This led to a multi agency risk assessment conference being held on 30 April 2014.
But Ayeeshia-Jayne was killed the following day, before further action could be taken.
The report went on to state: "The birth father himself admitted to the review author that whilst he had many concerns about his ex-partner's behaviour, the people she associated with and her reliance on alcohol, at no time did he anticipate that she would fatally harm their daughter."
It concluded: "From the facts and evidence in this case such an act by M (Mother) could not have been predicted.
"The case showed how difficult it is for agencies to retain a child-centred focus when the needs of a young parent facing domestic abuse continue to dominate."
The NSPCC said the report revealed a "series of missed opportunities" to save Ayeeshia's life.
A spokesman for the children's charity said: “Defenceless Ayeeshia-Jayne suffered sickening cruelty and was consigned to a brutal death by the people who should have protected her.
“The child must be at the heart of all decisions that professionals make in these situations – no matter how difficult those decisions may be.
“This report has revealed a series of missed opportunities and flawed practices that did not consistently prioritise Ayeeshia-Jayne’s needs – and must now be addressed and improved.
“’Lessons need to be learned’ is an all-too-familiar phrase in tragic cases like this – but everything possible must be done to ensure swift and decisive action is taken when there are concerns for a child’s welfare.
“It is vital that anyone worried about a child speaks out, as it could save a life. They can contact the NSPCC helpline in confidence, 24/7, on 0808 800 5000.”
Jane Parfrement, the director of Children's Services at Derbyshire County Council, said the authority accepted its findings in full.
Ms Parfrement said: "For those issues where practice could have been stronger, we apologise to the family, and have already apologised to the family.
"I think in particular, having met with Ayeeshia-Jayne's dad yesterday, I think we could have engaged him a lot better, worked with him differently.
"I think the tone of our work with him was set quite early on, when there were difficulties in the relationships with social workers."