Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Stefania Woolf death a warning to communities

The tragic case of a Hertfordshire mother who died leaving her profoundly disabled daughter to die from dehydration or a series of fits has led to calls for greater community involvement to take the burden of caring off families. An inquest heard how Polish-born Stefania Woolf, 67, refused help in caring for her daughter, Samantha, 29, who suffered from a catalogue of conditions including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, a heart condition and brain damage after being starved of oxygen at birth.

Mrs Woolf experienced panic attacks and bouts of paranoia, had a breakdown in 1998 and was sectioned for 19 days, yet was believed to be cured after she completed her course of anti-depressants in 2002. Yet she fell out with Hertfordshire Social Services in 2006 and refused them access to Samantha, saying it was “an intrusion” in their lives.

It is believed Mrs Woolf died on July 13 last year, with her daughter dying a “horrendous” death a few days later once her medication wore off. Their bodies went undetected for 3 weeks and were too badly decomposed to give a precise cause of death, a pathologist said.

The case has led to Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, to call on communities to do more to help those in need, and for families with disabled members to ensure there is a network of support available. He said: “The most tragic aspect of this case is that Stefania not only withdrew herself and her daughter from social services but also from the wider community in which they lived. “Whilst it appears that Stefania refused offers of additional help, this case does highlight how essential it is for disabled people to be surrounded by a network of support, from professionals such as social services, to extended family members and also informal neighbourhood and community groups. “Local authorities need to maintain and build confidence in their services so that families and individuals can make full use of them. In a time of drastic budget cuts, support including respite and community-based services must be protected to help alleviate some of the pressure on families and give disabled people the opportunity to play a more visible and active role in their local community.”

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