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Call for dedicated child protection teams in every local area

Child protection in England needs to “change fundamentally”, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel has said.

A review into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson has called for dedicated child protection teams made up of police, healthcare staff and social workers in every local area. 

Published today, the review found that the fatal abuses suffered by the two children, aged six and 16 months respectively, reflected wider problems of poor information sharing and weak decision-making. 

It addition to the multi-agency teams in every local authority area, the panel called for a national child protection board to co-ordinate child protection policy as well as multi-agency practice standards being developed to ensure consistency. 

Chairwoman Annie Hudson said that while the current safeguarding system is not necessarily "broken", there is too much ambiguity and inconsistency. 

Existing multi-agency safeguarding arrangements “are not yet fit for purpose everywhere” she added.

While acknowledging that child protection work is inherently complex, the review said that the current system does not give professionals the best opportunity “to get to the truth”, and that existing multi-agency arrangements are more fractured and fragmented than they should be.

This has prevented professionals from having a clear and contemporaneous vision of the child’s life and who they are surrounded by. 

It equally identified the importance of challenging assumptions and biases including acknowledging the role of women in perpetrating abuse. 

Arthur’s case

At six years’ old, Arthur died in June 2020. His father was later convicted for manslaughter, his father’s partner for murder. 

Arthur’s parents had split and in February 2019, his mother was convicted for the manslaughter of her then partner and was given a “significant” prison sentence. 

In 2018 she had been the victim of a domestic abuse incident, Birmingham Children’s Trust stepped in for a Children in Need assessment which concluded with no further action. A further assessment came to the same conclusion following his mother’s arrest. 

In 2019, his father began a relationship with Emma Tustin, who was already known to agencies as both a victim and perpetrator of domestic abuse. 

West Midlands Police, SOLAR (partnership between Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS) and a CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) had all been involved following concerns being raised but the explanation of play fighting had consistently been accepted. 

On June 16, emergency services were called to their home address - Arthur had sustained a substantial head injury and was in cardiac arrest. He died from his injuries the following morning. 

130 bruises were found on his body at the time of death, blood tests indicated possible salt poisoning for which Tustin was convicted. 

The review said that a judgement had been formed early on that Thomas Hughes was a “protective father” which although reasonable to begin with, was not challenged when circumstances changed, including his relationship with Tustin. 

Star’s case

Star was murdered in 2020 at 16 months old. Star’s mother was convicted of causing or allowing her death, her mother’s partner convicted of her murder. 

Her mother, Frankie Smith, was 17 when she became pregnant and Star’s life involved moving households regularly and she was at times cared for by people other than her mother. 

Frankie’s partner Savannah Brockhill had a history of domestic abuse and was made subject to a restraining order in 2015. 

Following reports, the police did make a welfare check and a social worker completed an assessment from a home visit, no child protection concerns were reported. 

The review found that Frankie Smith’s explanation of family members’ concerns as malicious and rooted in dislike for the mother’s same-sex relationship was “too easily accepted”.

CCTV footage on September 13 showed Star being hit by Brockhill with 20 separate blows to the head and body across a period of two hours. 

The final cause of death was abdominal haemorrhage cause by blunt force trauma. 

The review found that Bradford children’s social care service was “in turmoil” in 2020 with a high turnover of staff and high volume of work. 

Star had only received one-off home visits and historic information was not passed on and asessment did not consider the family context. 

Response

Ms Hudson said: “Arthur and Star suffered horrific and ultimately fatal abuse. But sadly, whilst their individual stories are unique, many hundreds of children are seriously harmed each year.

“At the moment, each professional who comes into contact with a child holds one piece of the jigsaw of what is happening in a child’s life.

“Our proposed reforms would bring together experts from social work, police and health into one team so that they can have a better picture of what is happening to a child, listening carefully to relatives’ concerns and taking necessary actions to protect children.”

Meanwhile West Midlands Police have promised the investment of additional resources into child safeguarding in Solihull. 

Assistant Chief Constable Claire Bell of West Midlands Police said: “We will continue to work with our partners to act on these recommendations, building on the progress we have already made to improve safeguarding for children across the West Midlands. This includes investing additional resources into child safeguarding in Solihull, and improving the quality and management of information held on the force records management system to enable us to identify and manage risks more accurately and improve our ability to prevent and investigate crime."

Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said she would set up a new Child Protection Ministerial group as "a first and immediate step in responding to these findings, before setting out a bold implementation plan later this year to bring about a fundamental shift in how we support better outcomes for our most vulnerable children and families.”

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