We had warned of dangers in cases like tragic Riley's
OFFICIALS dealing with children in families where hard drugs are used must talk to each other, an expert has urged in the wake of tragic Riley Pettipierre's death.
Vivienne Evans, chief executive of drugs charity Adfam, spoke after the manslaughter conviction of the parents of Riley, who drank his mother's methadone.
She said safety of children whose parents used hard drugs such as heroin should be assessed and it was crucial services "talked to each other".
Riley's mother, Sally Dent, of Belper, who had been on a methadone prescription from before becoming pregnant and used heroin and crack cocaine, had poured the substance into a child's beaker, which she and her partner, Shaun Binfield, left in the reach of the two-year-old.
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Ms Evans, whose organisation supports families affected by drugs and alcohol, said if a methadone-treated parent was using class A drugs as well she "would hope social services would be aware they had children and would have made an assessment to whether the child was safe".
She said that one of the challenges in this issue was "making sure people (in different services) talked to each other".
In The Children Act there is a statutory duty on all services to report to social services if they have any reason to believe a child is at risk.
Dent, who also took heroin and crack cocaine, told her trial that drug workers and staff at the hospital where she gave birth knew she used class A drugs.
The court also heard she had given positive results for heroin and cocaine when she was tested for illegal drugs on her methadone programme.
However, social services were never involved with Riley's family and it appears they were never told about his situation.
Ten years ago, Ms Evans was involved in an inquiry by The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which resulted in a report called Hidden Harm – Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users.
One of the key findings of the report was that parents using hard drugs could lead to children being harmed.
Another said that, by working together, services could protect and improve the health and well-being of affected children.
Ms Evans said: "Unfortunately at that time there was not enough joined-up working between children's social services and drugs services.
"That has improved but I know there are some tragic cases that occur when services are not talking to each other."
Government advice for protocols between drug and alcohol treatment services and safeguarding and family services states that protecting a child from harm "has to be the paramount concern of all agencies".
A serious case review is being carried out into Riley's death.