Teenager, 18, took own life after being removed from social services register

·4-min read
West Sussex County Hall North (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)
West Sussex County Hall North (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

A teenage boy who took his own life was removed from children’s social services caseload just five months before, an inquest as heard.

Jade Hutchings, 18, took his own life at his family home in Haywards Heath, West Sussex on May 21, 2020.

An inquest into his death opened on Monday in Horsham and statements from his mother Beatrice and father Kerry said the family felt “multiple opportunities” to intervene had been missed and if they had not, Jade may still be alive.

In a statement read out to the court, Mrs Hutchings said Jade’s issues first began in 2015 when she and her husband divorced, although the split was described as “amicable” by both and Jade still saw his father regularly.

Even if they felt they couldn't assess him after turning 18, no effort was made to continue care or refer him to adult social services

Beatrice Hutchings

That same year, Mrs Hutchings was diagnosed with kidney disease and had to attend hospital three times per week for dialysis treatment, something she said the whole family found distressing.

From 2018 to 2019, Jade was enrolled on a business computing course at St Paul’s Catholic College in Burgess Hill and he was described as “bright” and doing well in school. He also took on a part-time job as a shop assistant at Marks & Spencer.

Later in 2019, he dropped out of college and was fired from his job as he frequently did not attend his weekend shifts, due to going out with friends.

During 2019, Mrs Hutchings realised Jade was drinking alcohol frequently, was found in possession of drugs including Xanax and diazepam on multiple occasions, which he took recreationally, and he was also briefly suspended from school for giving Xanax to another student.

He was assaulted in June 2019, and in December 2019 he was kidnapped by two men and threatened at knifepoint, leading to Sussex Police considering that he may have been exploited by a county line drug-dealing gang. Mrs Hutchings said not enough was done to inform her about these concerns or investigate his vulnerability in this area.

In November 2019, social services planned to meet with Jade every 20 days to assess his wellbeing, however before he turned 18 on December 10 he was removed from their records.

He and our family received judgement and inadequate care - as a black family we were treated differently

Beatrice Hutchings

Mrs Hutchings said in her statement: “This plan was not discussed with me and it was decided to close Jade’s case as he needed to seek support from his GP and take responsibility as he was nearly 18.

“Even if they felt they couldn’t assess him after turning 18, no effort was made to continue care or refer him to adult social services – I was a social worker for 15 years and I can’t imagine treating children or families in such a way. It felt like we were swimming against a tide.”

Jade attempted to take his own life at least twice, once in 2019 and once in February 2020, where he threatened to stab himself with a kitchen knife. After the second attempt, he was taken to hospital and assessed by a Section 12 doctor as to whether he should be detained under the Mental Health Act.

The doctors who assessed him concluded that his issues were not psychological, they were caused by his alcohol issues and Jade told them he would refer himself to an addiction support service.

However, Jade did not self-refer and appointments with a psychiatrist, which began in March 2020 and had a positive effect on his wellbeing, had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus lockdown that made face-to-face appointments impossible.

Mrs Hutchings said the “onus” being on Jade to self-refer, rather than being referred by his GP or social services, meant opportunities to help him were missed.

On May 21, Mrs Hutchings went to the supermarket for about an hour and on her return she found Jade had attempted to take his own life. Paramedics called to the scene detected a weak pulse so he was taken to hospital, but following testing it was found he had a serious hypoxic brain injury and would not survive.

Mrs Hutchings’ statement concluded: “People built a picture of Jade in their minds based on stereotypes and misunderstandings. He was a quiet boy who wanted a good life.

“He and our family received judgement and inadequate care – as a black family we were treated differently.

“I’m heartbroken by the many missed opportunities there were to help Jade. I’ve lost my trust in people and the way my son was failed by the system is beyond belief.

“I don’t want any other family to be failed the way I was.”

The inquest continues.