A BROTHER and sister suffered permanent health problems after their parents were given a 'clean slate' to raise them despite previously having five children taken into care due to chronic neglect.

Charlie and Charlotte, whose real names are withheld, both had severe dental decay and permanent visual impairment by the time they were taken into foster care aged ten and seven.

A serious case review by the Durham Safeguarding Children Board (LSCD) found multiple agencies in County Durham worked with the parents for a decade but the children suffered because assessments were not thorough enough and decisions were made without full knowledge of the background.

In 2001 the parents had five children removed from their care by another Local Authority because of concerns about neglect, physical and sexual abuse and their unwillingness to accept help to change.

Six years later when the mother fell pregnant, various agencies became involved but when they had Charlie in 2007 and Charlotte in 2010 they were able to keep both.

Sadly for the siblings, history repeated itself.

The parents repeatedly missed the children's medical appointments, failed to get them treatment and the family home was often filthy and unsafe.

Charlie was not made to wear his glasses, concerns about Charlotte's behaviour and emotional distress were raised and both went to school hungry and exhausted.

When a health visitor called in on Charlotte's first birthday there were no cards up and her nappy was full and on another occasion a family worker found no milk, bread or cereal in the house.

Anonymous calls to the NSPCC included claims the youngsters were being hurt and were not fed but made to watch their parents eat as punishment.

But the father, who had poor mental and physical health, and the mother, who had learning difficulties, claimed they were malicious lies and, with the state of the children and home acceptable at the time, were believed.

There had also been allegations of sexual abuse involving the family though no criminal proceedings. The review urges professionals to consider the difference between evidential thresholds for taking a case to court and the probable risk to children.

The LSCB report highlighted the 'clean slate' approach taken when mother became pregnant in 2006, and states that professionals had been 'overly optimistic'.

It found there had been a 'lack of professional curiosity' and the complex case was exacerbated by professionals often working in isolation.

The review states: "There were undoubtedly missed opportunities to intervene earlier in Charlie and Charlotte's lives in order to safeguard them and halt or prevent damage to their eyesight and visual damage to their teeth."

Health and social services, police, GP practice, housing and school staff took part in a learning event as part of the review and all agencies involved in the case developed plans to deliver improvements.

A LSCB spokesperson said: "Charlie and Charlotte have suffered significant harm as a result of assessments not being thorough and not using historical information to inform decision making.

"Professionals were overly optimistic about the parents' ability to effect change and meet the needs of the children.

"It is important we learn from the case and make improvements to protect children, particularly where there is a history of care proceedings and procedures will be put in place to highlight where children are not brought to appointments.

"Working together and tackling neglect are Board priorities."