Social Workers Showed ‘Lack of Professional Curiosity’ over Abuse Before Adoptive Gay Dad Killed Baby

South Wales Police

Social workers missed too many opportunities to protect a toddler who was murdered by her adoptive father because they saw the gay parents through a “positive lens” and failed to notice signs of abuse, an official report has revealed.

Elsie Scully-Hicks, 18 months old, had suffered a catalogue of abuse including a broken leg and “catastrophic head injuries” during the seven months she was fostered and eventually adopted by Matthew and Craig Scully-Hicks.

In May 2016, she was taken to hospital by fitness instructor Matthew, 31, after he had violently shaken the child and smashed her head on a hard surface at his home in Cardiff, Wales. Elsie died days after being admitted to hospital — just two weeks after being formally adopted.

Scully-Hicks was found guilty of murder in November 2017 and sentenced to life with a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment.

The Cardiff and Vale Regional Safeguarding Children Board subsequently launched an investigation after it was revealed that social services had visited Matthew Scully-Hicks 15 times and he had taken the child to the doctor’s and hospital multiple times, but there had been “no concern” from authorities over his parenting.

The report found that both Matthew and his 36-year-old husband Craig, a company director who was often away from home, were seen through a “positive lens” and were praised as “very positive parents” since the child was placed with them in September 2015 when she was 10 months old.

“Given how strongly this view was held, the injuries that the child sustained were never considered as anything other than childhood accidents,” the report said, adding there was “a lack of professional curiosity regarding the child’s experiences and injuries”.

Criticising authorities for missing other signs of abuse, the authority added that “the omission of identifying the second fracture to the child’s upper leg on the X-ray was a missed opportunity to [have] raised safeguarding concerns and instigate child protection procedures.

“The observations and recording of the large bruise to the child’s forehead both by children’s services and health was absent.

“This resulted in the large bruise becoming ‘invisible’ to professionals and did not form part of building an overall picture of what was happening to the child before the final report to the court prior to the adoption order hearing being made.”

The report claimed that lessons would be learnt from the death of Elsie, writing: “There is always learning to be gained and this case is no different.”

Lance Carver, social services chief at Vale of Glamorgan council, apologised to the natural family of Elsie but said that no disciplinary action had been taken against social service staff, according to The Times.

“Social workers and staff from all agencies saw the adoption as very positive,” he said.

“The report identifies issues that ‘that positive lens’ meant that they were not looking in the way they should have been… We have taken that fully on board.”

Elsie, or Shayla, as her birth family called her, was taken from her drug-abusing mother shortly after birth, but her extended family said last year that had she been allowed to be adopted by relatives, she would still be alive today.

According to an opinion piece by columnist Sarah Vine, a whistleblower with 30 years’ experience in social services in Elsie’s local authority believes that the Scully-Hickses may not have been as thoroughly vetted or challenged over Elsie’s injuries as it seemed a positive move by authorities to place a child with a gay couple.

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