Two malnourished children never allowed to attend school phoned the NSPCC to report their own parents for child neglect, reveals a new report.
The authorities missed a string of opportunities to intervene, according to the damning dossier.
The 14-year-old boy and his 16-year-old sister told the charity they had never been enrolled at school and were illiterate.
They also said they were “made to hide” when visitors came to the family home in Waltham Forest, east London.
The boy told the charity’s call handler there were “secrets in the family” – and claimed that they “were confined to the house and allowed out to the park only outside school hours”.
Police were informed and found the teenagers “pale and with their appearance suggestive of being malnourished”, according to a serious case review.
The report found a dozen missed opportunities where social services could have stepped in sooner.
The investigation revealed the parents, who cannot be named, never applied to the council to home-school their children, and the boy could not recall ever having a check-up with a doctor or dentist.
But despite the two children missing multiple medical appointments as babies and never enrolling in school, social services did not seriously consider them “at risk”.
The girl was born with a heart disorder and missed multiple check-ups as a baby, the report found.
And, despite complaining of dizziness and “near blackouts” to a GP in 2016, she was not taken to hospital until two years later.
A hospital doctor then tried to raise concerns about the teenager’s welfare with the council’s safeguarding team but the referral was never completed, the report found.
According to the report, police were called out twice to the family home
In February 2008 the boy, then aged four, was found walking the streets alone wearing only a t-shirt and nappy.
After he was returned to his parents “there is no record of the police requesting to see the other children in the household or liaison with other agencies”, according to the report.
Officers were also called to the house in April 2017, and reported a “strange and odd” situation where children and their mother were locked inside their home and only let out when the father returned.
But concerns about the welfare of the children were not followed up by social services.
The parents also had an older child, now 26, who was taken into care in 2001 due to allegations of neglect, it was found.
The mother – who has health problems – had previously suggested to doctors that her partner was “coercive and controlling”.
David Peplow, chair of Waltham Forest Council’s Safeguarding Children Board, said the case “highlighted issues of national concern” and “areas where improvements can be made”.
Mr Peplow added that the council and social services had “an absolute commitment to delivering the best possible care and support and is focused on continuous improvement and learning”.
The Met Police has now launched a criminal investigation into suspected child cruelty, and said it is “working with our partners to identify and act on any organisational learning” from the case review.
The report said it remains unknown what prompted the teenagers to call the NSPCC, but officers noticed the girl was “anxious that father would be listening in on the conversation with the police”.
It added that the “children were guarded in their responses due to their anxiety”, and were said to be “happy” to leave the family home and are now “thriving” in foster care.
Children’s services in Waltham Forest were rated as good during the last Ofsted inspection in March.
But the report, by Korkor Ceasar and Darren McAughtrie, has made four recommendations, to prevent children becoming “hidden” or lost within the system.
A spokesman for Waltham Forest Council said: “Significant improvements had been made with systems and information sharing”, since the case came to light.”
An NSPCC spokeswoman said: “The serious case review makes clear there were missed opportunities to support this family and its recommendations must be implemented to minimise the risk of this happening again.”
She added: “We all have a duty to look out for the welfare of children.
“Last year the NSPCC helpline was contacted on average 55 times a day by adults worried about child neglect.”