Professionals missed significant opportunities to protect murdered toddler

Social workers and other professionals missed significant opportunities to protect a toddler who was murdered by his mother in Birmingham two years ago.

The serious case review (SCR) into the death of Keanu Williams found that although the toddler attended A&E four times with significant injuries and the nursery also reported numerous injuries, he was for the most part considered a “child-in-need”.

His mother, Rebecca Shuttleworth, had been a child in care herself and still a teenager when she had Keanu’s two older siblings by a man with a violent and criminal history.

On two separate occasions in 2005 and 2006 child protection concerns were reported about the siblings which resulted in them going on child protection plans and placed with their grandfather under residence orders.

Shuttleworth then moved to Torbay and fell pregnant by an unknown man with Keanu.

Shortly afterwards she moved back to Birmingham to stay with her grandfather and older children again.

Despite repeated referrals and letters outlining the school’s concerns about the older children, following Shuttleworth’s return, social workers did not follow up on the concerns.

Keanu himself was the subject of a child protection plan and despite what the report called a “well-argued” social work report stating the risks and concerns, the child protection conference concluded that Keanu did not require a child protection plan, although there was no record of the reasons for the decision.

Subsequently Keanu was moved around frequently as his mother reported herself homeless and stayed with friends and family.

Her explanations of his repeated injuries were that he fell a lot and in fact “falls over nothing”. Very little action was taken to challenge her explanation and the children were accepted to be at risk of neglect, rather than abuse.

“Throughout the lives of the three children and in many respects in relation to Rebecca Shuttleworth herself as a care leaver, the picture has emerged in this serious case review of a lack of focus on children and their welfare,” the report stated.

As in the more recent Daniel Pelka SCR the authors identified the “rule of optimisim” was in place which compounded the difficulties caused by Shuttleworth’s frequent moves and chronic understaffing in both social care and the health visiting services.

The report concluded that a combination of poor information sharing, including IT systems which seemed to actively prevent information sharing within social care, as well as poor practice led to significant missed opportunities.

Although the SCR concluded Keanu’s death could not have been predicted it stated that in view of the background history of the mother and Keanu’s siblings it could have been predicted that Keanu was likely to suffer significant harm.

Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, blamed the ingrained culture of failure in Birmingham.

“This is not about excusing poor practice and covering up mistakes, but social workers do need to be empowered to express concerns about cases and say at the time what needs to change if we are to better protect the city’s children.”

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