A little girl was locked up by her mother in Attendorn for around seven years. Apparently, their game of hide-and-seek worked so well mainly because there were serious mistakes by the youth welfare office. At least that is what the results of the investigations into the case suggest so far.

Little Mara (name changed) lived like a prisoner. Her mother locked the eight-year-old girl in her grandparents’ house in Attendorn, Sauerland. No friends, no playing outside the door, no kindergarten, no school, hardly any exercise. An elusive fate, made all the more incredible by the fact that this martyrdom went unnoticed for over seven years in a town of just 25,000 people.

For a long time, neither the neighbors suspected anything nor the authorities. Mother Rosemarie G. had left the wrong trail and had already deregistered from the residential address in 2015 and had apparently moved to relatives in Calabria in southern Italy. In fact, she was hiding in her parents’ house with her daughter. Presumably to prevent contact between Mara and her ex-partner.

The hide-and-seek apparently also worked thanks to serious mistakes in the youth authority. At least that is what the report by the green NRW Minister for Children and Youth Josefine Paul to the family committee of the NRW state parliament suggests. There it says: “From the point of view of the youth welfare office, the technical procedural standards for child protection were not fully complied with in the present case.” Already in an interview with FOCUS online, the head of the office had admitted mistakes and emphasized that all processes in such cases are put to the test want to ask.

The public prosecutor’s office is now investigating the mother and her parents for deprivation of liberty and mistreatment of those under protection. At the same time, criminal proceedings were initiated against the youth authority in the district of Olpe. In the room are assault in office and deprivation of liberty by omission. “The procedure is still directed against unknown persons, since the responsible employees of the authority have yet to be determined,” reports Patrick Baron von Grotthuss. The chief public prosecutor criticized in particular the incomplete documentation in the youth welfare office file on the Mara case, which goes back to the custody dispute between the two parents in court in 2015/16. “This must now be painstakingly determined.”

Since 2020, the youth welfare office has received anonymous information that the mother and child are still living in Attendorn. But when it came to on-site visits, the district service had always been brushed off by the grandmother at the front door. In vain, the employees had researched at local pediatric practices, a health insurance company and the office for kindergarten contributions at the youth welfare office. There was no trace of Mara and her mother. Therefore, according to the ministerial report, the authority was unable to “find any signs of a child’s welfare being endangered.”

However, the question arises as to why officials and the police have not long since investigated in Italy after the anonymous tip-off, whether Rosemarie G. actually lived there with her daughter? In that case, it would have quickly become clear that the mother had given a fake address. Consequently, one could have searched the grandparents’ house much earlier because of child endangerment.

About a year ago, another anonymous tip alerted a youth welfare officer. According to the findings so far, the clerk asked a police officer by telephone whether one should act and obtain a search warrant for the house in Attendorn. The policeman replied that this vague clue would not be sufficient for a raid. So valuable time wasted again.

At the moment it is still questionable, according to chief public prosecutor von Grothuss, how exactly the conversation went at that time. So far there is only one police note about the phone call. Accordingly, there was no talk of two other anonymous tips in the previous year. Otherwise, so the assumption, the investigators would certainly have reacted earlier. “According to the current state of knowledge, the police only found out about this matter in September 2022,” said the senior public prosecutor. Two months earlier, a couple had reported that they had heard from acquaintances that Mara was being held captive in the house in Attendorn. Finally, the youth welfare office acted and turned on the Italian authorities. They announced that the mother and daughter were not at the address given in Calabria.

On September 23, the police entered the house in Attendorn and freed Mara from her prison. The girl now lives with a foster family. Neither the child’s father nor the mother are allowed to see their daughter. So far, the public prosecutor’s office reported, there was no evidence of physical abuse in the child. Therapists should now clarify the extent to which the family prison has had psychological consequences.