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HomeNewsCaroline Farrow: The disturbing questions raised by poor little Elsie

Caroline Farrow: The disturbing questions raised by poor little Elsie


Gay fitness instructor Matthew Scully-Hicks, who with his husband Craig adopted a baby girl they named Elsie, has been found guilty of her murder and jailed for a minimum of 18 years.

I can’t bring myself to recount every detail of this poor little girl’s ordeal, but a chronology of events and the repeated trauma that Elsie suffered at the hands of her adoptive ‘father’ is outlined here.

A Serious Case Review is in the offing and already the apologists are out, keen to point out that this adoption, which ought never to have taken place, was a ‘rogue’ case. In other words, what happened was completely abnormal, unexpected and could not have been predicted. Or at least that’s what David Niven, former head of the British Association of Social Workers and chairman of two safeguarding boards in England, is claiming.

It seems as though Mr Niven has pre-empted the conclusions and findings of the Serious Case Review before it has even started, and rather than looking at the facts of the case, the review will, suggests Mr Niven, look at how people did, or did not, work together and missed the things that possibly should have been found.

One of the first things which ought to be looked at is the screening of this couple and whether or not they were subject to any positive bias on account of their sexuality and domestic situation, which perhaps led social workers to overlook any potential problems flagged up in the screening process. Many friends of mine have gone through the necessarily invasive process involved in applying to be accepted as potential adoptive parents. It is far from straightforward, every aspect of your life and psyche is scrutinised, and often prospective parents are turned down for the most minor of points.

Most couples are warned that it is unlikely that they will be able to adopt a baby of Elsie’s age, as tends to be the preference. Adopting a baby is hard and yet Matthew Scully-Hicks managed it with ease. Could this be because he was fast-tracked and, if so, why? What made these two men more suitable than a mother and father? In the case of adoption one is always trying to replace that which has been lost, i.e. a stable family unit. Given that every child has a mother, why did the social workers believe that Elsie somehow didn’t need one?

Going by many of the court transcripts it seems that Scully-Hicks was after a well-trained, good-looking pet, rather than a human baby with a unique personality and needs, especially a baby who, thanks to her traumatic beginning in life, was likely to have difficulties with attachment and to need extra reassurance.

Should we really be surprised that a man with no biological attachment to this child exhibited a stunning lack of maternal instinct? Looking after a baby can be tough, and everyone can reach the end of their tether at some point. However I doubt if you’d see a woman, especially one who had been desperate for a child of her own, take the time to refer repeatedly to the baby as a ‘Satan in a Babygro’ in text messages or talk about her as though she was possessed. In fact for someone who professed to want children, Scully-Hicks seemed utterly unprepared to exercise the self-sacrificial love required of a parent, becoming infuriated every time Elsie required his time or attention, or caused him inconvenience. Even the way Scully-Hicks described his desire for children ought to have rung alarm bells – it was all about what he and his husband as a couple wanted, rather than whether they could give a child what she needed.

On the day of Elsie’s death he was happy to go and pick her an outfit and pose in selfies, presenting a wonderful front to his friends and family on social media, but Scully-Hicks once again lost his rag when confronted with the dirty, everyday grind of parenting such as changing a nappy.

Elsie’s crimes were to prefer pudding to a savoury main course, not sleeping through the night, screaming uncontrollably (who can blame her? She probably picked up on the antipathy of a man who hypothesised that she was possessed, called her a diva, a brat and unprintable obscenities), and wanting a cuddle and a dummy and some attention when she woke up. In short, she was a normal baby, probably a bit crotchety thanks to teething and not having had the same adult carers throughout her short life, but none of her behaviour was abnormal for an 18-month-old, the age at which Matthew Scully-Hicks decided he’d had enough of her and killed her.

What the Serious Case Review ought to look at is why, months after Elsie had began to exhibit a series of injuries, the social worker who visited didn’t see fit to do any sort of follow-up or checks. Why did none of the string of medical officials who saw Elsie not notice that she had sustained a number of injuries, which would all have been listed on her record, and realise that here was a particularly vulnerable and at-risk child who did not have a mother or female maternal figure, and that additional monitoring was needed?

Why was Elsie’s birth grandmother, who was already caring for two siblings and was desperate to adopt her, denied the opportunity? Standard practice in fostering and adoption is to keep siblings together and within the birth family if at all possible, so why was her grandmother found unsuitable? Why was it deemed in Elsie’s best interests to remove her from the love and care of her birth family, which included her experienced grandmother and two older siblings?

Could it be that social workers already had this ‘perfect couple’ picked out? In a separate case, a Christian magistrate is appealing against a decision to ban him because he rejected a social worker’s claim that homosexual couples make better parents than heterosexual ones. Was the same ideological bias applied here?

How did Scully-Hicks, who was pathologically unsuited to parenthood, manage to gain approval to be put in charge of a vulnerable baby, and what was it about this couple which stopped the medical professionals from asking questions? Why did Cardiff council spend thousands of pounds on legal fees in an attempt to keep Scully-Hicks’s identity out of the media?

Questions about how agencies ought to have worked together are important, but if it is to get to the heart of the matter and prevent future tragedy, the Serious Case Review must ask some difficult and painful questions. Calling the case of little Elsie ‘rogue’ may appease certain political and ideological sensibilities, but it does nothing to ease the minds of her birth family or the more appropriate and experienced heterosexual couples waiting to adopt and within whose care Elsie would have flourished and still been alive today.

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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