Nursery failed to spot signs of torture - including cigarette burns - on tots' bodies

A nursery has been closed after a tribunal heard staff failed to flag up evidence that children had possibly been abused when not in their care.
The tribunal rejected the appealThe tribunal rejected the appeal
The tribunal rejected the appeal

Bruises, cigarette burns and bites were among the injuries that youngsters presented when they arrived at Little Stars nursery in Regent Road, Morecambe, yet a catalogue of errors meant these were not reported to police or social services.

The nursery's failure to follow regulations was only discovered after the death of one of the children – a 16-month-old girl.

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Her death was not associated with the nursery but it sparked a visit by Ofsted inspectors and the other issues were uncovered.

The owner, 39-year-old Zoe Blundell's registration was suspended and nursery closed immediately.

A tribunal held in Blackpool was told that seven different children turned up at nursery bearing signs of possible abuse.

Police and social services should have been told about:-

l Signs that a two-year-old had been tortured-cigarette burns on the child’s feet.

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l How one two-year-old had bruises on his body covered with fake tan;

l How another youngster had bitten other children 15 times;

l Another child turned up at nursery with a cut which required stitches;

l One baby was often picked up by his drunken and foul-mouthed father;

l Another complained twice that his father had hurt him;

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l Another child had bruising caused by three fingers on his buttocks.

Mother-of-three Blundell, who opened the nursery 18 months ago, appealed against the decision by Ofsted to suspend her licence but it was rejected by the tribunal on Friday.

It was heard that some of the children's injuries were noted on 'cause for concern' forms signed off by Blundell or her staff but no action was taken.

Ofsted early years senior officer Anne Law said: “I believe there is still a risk to children at this nursery.

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"The main reason is the lack of leadership and management. I have serious concerns about Mrs Blundell's knowledge when it comes to the safeguarding of children.

"I don’t believe there is any safety net to spot signs and symptoms of abuse."

The panel was told: "There was a case of a bizarre injury to a two year old. The toddler arrived at nursery with fake tan covering two bruises on the side of his body.”

"The father was contacted and he said that the child had kicked a baby gate open, gone into his sister’s bedroom and put fake tan on himself from a bottle - a two year old used fake tan to cover his own bruising.”

"I would not have accepted that explanation at all.”

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Colleague Joanne Wildman told the tribunal she had visited Little Stars by appointment.

She said: "My worry was that Blundell was failing to signs of neglect and follow their own protocols.

“I asked if there were any children for which she had cause for concern and she said no.”

“She did mention that she knew that two children were living in a tent at the bottom of their grand parents’ garden following a fire at their own home.”

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Following the suspension the cases of five children were sent to Social Services but because of the delay evidence such as bruising had been lost.

She said that Blundell had blamed her staff for not following procedures and said the owner herself had been absent from the nursery for long periods because of the ill health of one of her own children.

Blundell said: “Looking back I realise mistakes were made. I know I could have been better. I put too much trust in my staff.

"I feel upset and ashamed for what happened. I put my own livelihood on the line.”

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She accepted there had been a failure to protect very young children in her nursery’s care by failing to report suspicions under the regulations.

* The death of the little girl is the subject of a serious case review but, it was stated in the tribunal, there was no evidence of linking the tragedy with the nursery.