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Monday, October 4, 1999 Published at 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK


UK

Child prostitute 'failed' by social workers

Aliyah Ismail died just days before her 14th birthday

A London council has been criticised for "significant shortcomings" over the death of a 13-year-old girl who was working as a prostitute when she was in its care.


The BBC's Social Affairs Correspondent Alison Holt: "A sobering lesson to all social services"
Aliyah Ismail was found dead in her boyfriend's rundown basement flat in London on 18 October last year after taking an overdose of the heroin substitute, methadone.

Just a few days earlier the authorities had lost track of her after she ran away from a children's home.

Failure to listen

An independent report into the case by childcare expert Maddie Blackburn found childcare bodies responsible for Aliyah did not provide "a sufficiently effective response".

In particular, the report, published on Monday by the Harrow Area Child Protection Committee, highlights the agencies' failure to listen to Aliyah.

She is reported to have suggested as early as March that she was involved in prostitution and alleged that she had been abused by friends and relatives, although she later withdrew some of these allegations.

The report says: "More attention appeared to be given to the needs of the adult family members rather than to Aliyah."

The report also raises "fundamental questions" about how social workers should deal with cases of children who fall into prostitution and drug addiction.

The council has been criticised for failing to impose a secure accommodation order on Aliyah which was obtained in the month prior to her death, but not acted upon until 16 October when she had disappeared.

The council accepts criticism that it failed to listen to Aliyah and did not follow its "fast-track" procedure to get her into secure accommodation.


[ image: Mary Ney: Procedures were not properly followed]
Mary Ney: Procedures were not properly followed
It also admits that the agencies involved in looking after Aliyah, including social services, the police and the local health authority, did not work effectively together and did not communicate properly.

Social services was responsible for coordinating the agencies.

Mary Ney, director of social services, said lessons would be learnt from the case and an action plan would be drawn up.

She added that procedures existed which would have protected Aliyah, but staff needed to have "sufficient tenacity" to follow them through.

The report, which makes 18 recommendations and four key points, says staff need better training in communication skills and calls for a better system for sharing information on at-risk children.

Keith Toms, deputy leader of Harrow council, said: "This is a personal tragedy and everyone involved must take a share of responsibility for what happened to Aliyah.

"Young people such as Aliyah pose enormous challenges for us all."

Some 230 staff and 10 different agencies dealt with Aliyah during her life.

The summary report does not give details on individual blame or how staff should be disciplined in such cases.

Two social workers involved in the case have been suspended and are charged with serious misconduct.

In and out of care

During her life, Aliyah, who was part Palestinian Jordanian, moved a total of 68 times between her divorced parents, other relatives and in and out of care.

Because of her changing circumstances, she was known to care staff by three different names.

She had had five different care placements in 1998 alone.

By the time she ran off from the children's home, the 13-year-old was already working as a prostitute.

It is believed she had various sexually transmitted diseases and was a regular drug user.

Aliyah was working alongside older girls on the streets around London's King's Cross and Edgware Road.

She was reportedly picked up by police several times.



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