POLICE and social workers have been criticised after a little girl was put back into the care of her abusive stepmother.

A Lewisham Council report has revealed how Child J was left badly bruised after being punched and slapped by a Brazilian-born woman known in the report as Ms G.

The little girl was born in Portugal in 2002 before being moved to the UK at the age of three.

She lived in an overcrowded house in Lewisham and was subjected to a catalogue of abuse at the hands of her father's new girlfriend.

The child was so scared, social workers who visited the girl described her as being "rooted to the floor".

The first signs of harm came in November 2005 when someone living with the child reported a case of domestic abuse. A few months later a health visitor noticed a bruise on the child's face.

In October 2006 Ms G hit the child and was cautioned for common assault. This prompted Children's Social Care to move the three-year-old to live with "a family friend" where she was said to have "flourished".

However, a social worker "apparently without the authority of a manager" began planning overnight stays at the step-mum's house.

By early February 2007 the youngster was back living with Ms G and only months later she was telling a school teacher her step-mum had been hitting her.

After a further complaint of punching was made in November 2007, police investigated but took no action.

Following further incidents of "slapping" and claims from the child to social workers that "she slept on the floor", she was transferred into the care of her natural mother.

Since the move in July last year, she is understood to be "happily settled".

The report, published by the council's local safeguarding children board, said "poor" decision-making by social workers contributed to the blunders.

It also stated: "A failure of communication within the Police Service meant the investigating officer remained unaware Ms G had previously been cautioned for an assault against child J."