Belfast Telegraph

Social worker was 'warned repeatedly' over Caitlin's vulnerability

By Aaron Tinney

A social services department has been accused of failing to save the life of suspected drugs-death teenager Caitlin White.

A case worker from the Southern Health and Social Care Trust was allegedly told repeatedly that Caitlin was a vulnerable girl in need of urgent help.

A distraught woman, who did not want to be named out of respect to Caitlin's family, explained how she informed a social worker from the Southern Trust that Caitlin (15) was apparently addicted to illegal substances and in danger of dying.

The traumatised parent said she had warned a social worker that Caitlin was at risk just weeks before she died in hospital, after being found collapsed near the Corcrain estate in Portadown.

She claimed the health worker "fobbed off" her report and instructed her to contact the 'Gateway Service', which deals with reports from people concerned about the safety of children.

Caitlin was buried on Wednesday.

The woman said: "I knew another girl who was taking drugs with Caitlin and I reported it all to social services.

"But the social worker who was dealing with my case didn't seem interested in doing anything to help Caitlin.

"She just told me to go to the local Gateway Service for children if I was 'that concerned' about the girl.

"I spoke to her twice about Caitlin and she did nothing.

"Now she's dead."

The care worker who took the call in the trust cannot be named for legal reasons.

The parent insisted: "I know it may be the rules to report child cases to Gateway, but this person was a social worker - they should have cared more and done more to try and get Caitlin sorted."

Despite the woman's detailed account of her communication with social services, they refused to speak about the case to the Belfast Telegraph. A spokesman for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust replied "no comment" to all our questions.

When asked if the trust had any record of a social worker being told Caitlin was at risk, he said: "No comment - we'll not be commenting."

And when asked what their formal procedure was for registering parents' concerns, he replied again: "No comment," before refusing to answer any more questions.

The distraught parent did not report Caitlin's case to Gateway services as she "couldn't see the point" after being "fobbed off" by the social worker who heard her concerns.

The trust has previously been lambasted over accusations from a whistleblower within the service that it was guilty of a litany of failings.

The whistleblower claimed the trust had not selected patients to have appointments postponed on the basis of their condition, but rather on an alphabetical basis in relation to their surname, which could have grave implications for people with serious conditions that needed frequent monitoring.

Caitlin's devastated mum Teresa told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week: "She was my world and they took her away from me. My heart is broken forever."

Yesterday, the family were too distraught to speak about the accusations that social services had failed Caitlin, who had been due to sit one of her GCSE exams two days after she died.

Mourners at the funeral of the Co Armagh schoolgirl were told to "remember her life, not her death".

Hundreds of friends and family members gathered in Newry to remember the "bubbly" teen following her sudden death on Saturday.

The teenager died in Craigavon Hospital after being found unconscious near the Corcrain estate in Portadown, where she had been with friends.

The exact cause of her death is not yet known, but police say a link to drugs is one line of inquiry.

Police told the Belfast Telegraph that a post-mortem had been completed but the results may not be known for some time.

Three male teenagers, arrested in the wake of Caitlin's death, have been released on police bail.

Pupils from her former primary school formed a guard of honour outside the Church of the Assumption in Newry, where tributes were paid during the Requiem Mass.

Addressing mourners, Fr Damien Quigley spoke of the sadness at the death of the teenager, who has been described as a "beautiful girl inside and out".

Caitlin had been living in the Portadown area for two years, after growing up in Newry.

Her aunt, Claire White, paid tribute to her "beautiful" niece.

She said: "She was just a great wee girl, one of those people who lit up every room she went in to.

"Whenever you would see her she was bubbly and cheerful, she always had a smile on her face.

"She was a beautiful girl inside and out. Caitlin would talk to anyone, she was very popular and well liked - that was just her personality."

Caitlin was buried in Cloughoge cemetery.

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