SafeLives respond to serious case review into the death of Ayeeshia-Jayne Smith
The serious case review published yesterday into the tragic death of one year old Ayeeshia-Jayne Smith makes for incredibly difficult reading. It is shocking and deeply saddening to read about the death of a little girl, killed by her mother Kathryn Smith. All of us will be thinking of the terrible impact on Ayeeshia-Jayne’s family.
Though any organisation hesitates to comment in a situation like this, we feel we have to highlight the clear problems with some of the language and conclusions from the review, and the media stories which quickly followed yesterday. In particular, the reporting that Kathryn Smith's needs were allowed to 'frequently overshadow' the needs of Ayeeshia-Jayne.
Ayeeshia-Jayne was in grave danger. And so was Kathryn Smith. The risk to both of them as a result of domestic abuse in the home was so severe that it was defined by local agencies as putting Kathryn at high risk of serious harm or death. Domestic abuse is unfortunately very common; being at this extreme level of risk from your partner is relatively rare but still results in the death of two women a week.
Stating that Kathryn's needs incorrectly 'overshadowed' those of Ayeeshia-Jayne ignores the reality of a family’s life and significantly limits the ambition we should have about how to prevent incidents like this. Where a mother is at high risk of murder, it has to be true that there are extremely high levels of risk to that child, too. They are in effect living the same life, together. And yet, the case review suggests that professionals should be asked to pick between a highly vulnerable mother and her equally vulnerable child, to prioritise one over the other. This is not an inevitable choice.
The risks to Kathryn and Ayeeshia-Jayne were linked together, overlapped and impacted on one another, but were treated as separate. The family needed to be supported and responded to as a whole – as all families should be.
The whole picture of life for Kathryn and Ayeeshia-Jayne should have also included a thorough examination of the role of Matthew Rigby, and what could be done to stop his abusive behaviour. Reports yesterday that the relationship between Kathryn and Matthew was ‘volatile’ are euphemistic and misleading. This was a violent and abusive relationship in which Matthew Rigby posed a serious risk of harm or murder to Kathryn. In that situation, what work was done to constrain his behaviour? To hold him accountable for the harm he was causing? This is not to suggest that Kathryn isn’t responsible for her actions. But in flagging the risk to Ayeeshia-Jayne, her father indicated that he felt the situation Kathryn was in was what gave him most cause for concern, not Kathryn herself.
None of the things we suggest here should be at the expense of the other. We urgently need a response that makes children safe as soon as possible. We failed to make Ayeeshia-Jayne safe. The cost could not be greater and we must do better. We hope professionals continue to try and understand the whole picture of abuse and vulnerability, and do not feel pressure to provide a siloed response that fails to understand the interdependent nature of risk.
We are a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for good. We combine insight from services, survivors and statistics to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives. Since 2005, SafeLives has worked with organisations across the country to transform the response to domestic abuse, with over 60,000 victims at highest risk of murder or serious harm now receiving co-ordinated support annually.
No one should live in fear. It is not acceptable, not inevitable, and together – we can make it stop.
Every year, two million people experience domestic abuse. For every person being abused, there is someone else responsible for that abuse: the perpetrator. And all too often, children are in the home and living with the impact.
Domestic abuse affects us all; it thrives on being hidden behind closed doors. We must make it everybody’s business.
For interviews or more information, please contact Penny East, Head of Communications at SafeLives, on 07818 593 562 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org