Another death, another review?  Child protection in England

The list of reviews into child protection is a long one.  With each well-known case (Victoria Climbié, Holly Wells & Jessica Chapman, Baby P, Daniel Pelka) or scandal (Rotherham) often comes a review into the child protection system headed by prominent individuals (Lord Laming, Sir Michael Bichard, Eileen Munro, and Professor Alexis Jay OBE) and recommendations for improvements. Improvements to multi-agency working have been recommended time and again.

Following on from the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson (see earlier posts here and here) a National Review into their deaths was undertaken by Annie Hudson, Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.  Its report was published on 26 May 2022.

Arthur died in June 2020 at the hands of his father (Thomas Hughes) and his father’s partner (Emma Tustin). He was six years old.  Star died in September 2020 at the hands of her mother (Frankie Smith) and her mother’s partner (Savannah Brickhill). She was 16 months old. In both cases numerous bruises were found on their bodies, and relatives had reported concerns to the authorities. Their deaths were clearly preventable. Both children were murdered by their ‘stepmothers’ – which might suggest that professionals retain an ingrained reluctance to view females as perpetrators of abuse. 

In Arthur’s case the agencies (including Solihull MBC and West Midlands Police) failed to listen to Arthur on his own or to draw on Emma Tustin’s history of domestic abuse (both as a victim and a perpetrator). Solihull MBC has been ordered to make urgent improvements to its children’s social care services.  In Star’s case the agencies (including Bradford Council and West Yorkshire Police) failed to work in true cooperation.  Some information was shared, but it was not put in context or evaluated strategically. The failure to listen to the family’s concerns was also significant. Bradford Council has been stripped of control of its children social care functions – which were transferred to a trust.

The National Review makes eight national recommendations. They are:

  1. Creation of genuinely multi-professional Multi-Agency Child Protection Units
  2. Development of new National Multi-Agency Child Protection Practice Standards
  3. Strengthening of local Safeguarding Partners
  4. Changes to multi-agency inspections
  5. Improvement to the performance of safeguarding partners through a new Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel
  6. Driving a sharper performance focus and better co-ordination of child protection policy in Government
  7. Improvement to the use of data
  8. Specific practice improvements in relation to domestic abuse.

The Education Secretary said he was committed to acting on the recommendations, but no plan or timescales have been published yet.  The creation of dedicated multi-agency child protection teams in each area would mark a significant shift in this area.


Written by Geneviève Rich at BLM (geneviève.rich@blmlaw.com)

What happened to child protection during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Earlier this year we reported on predictions about the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic on child protection and initial reports into the ‘lockdown effect’ on child protection. 

There is now further confirmation of the ‘lockdown effect’ on children in England and Wales. Compared to the same period in 2019, there is in 2020 a marked rise (+27%) in the most serious incidents of suspected child abuse. 

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Data protection and child protection

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, recently wrote to the largest social media companies following up on a meeting he had with them before Christmas 2017. He indicated his discontent with the slow progress they were making in areas such as age verification, screen time limits and cyber bullying.  He gave them until 30 April to respond with details of the steps they have taken in relation to those points and their intentions in relation to ‘healthy screen time’ for young users.  Possible legislation was threatened if the voluntary joint approach continued to prove unsatisfactory.  The details of their responses have yet to be made public.

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