High workloads meant opportunities to help Hamzah Khan were missed

The serious case review into the death of Hamzah Khan has found that high workloads in children’s social services in Bradford may have meant opportunities to intervene were missed.

Four-year-old Khan died on 15th December 2009 from neglect and starvation, but his body was only found in September 2011 after a police visit to the home of his mother Amanda Hutton.

The serious case review into the death said that while Hamzah’s death could not have been predicted, opportunities to enquire about his circumstances and whereabouts were missed.

It found that services in the city struggled to piece together a clear picture of Khan’s situation due to Hutton’s lack of engagement with health and other services but children’s social services also missed opportunities to investigate the family more closely.

Social services, the report said, did not make sufficient enquiries into how the Khan and his siblings were being affected by Hutton’s depression and alcohol dependency or the domestic violence she faced. It found that social workers who visited the family home only saw the living room and did not see the children alone.

“It is unclear if Amanda Hutton prevented such enquiries or they were simply not done,” says the report.

And when, in 2006, one of Khan’s older siblings went to the police about the violence and situation at home, social services treated it as a parent-adolescent conflict due to the child’s lack of significant injuries and reluctance to pursue.

“Age may also have been a contributory factor,” said the report. “There would probably be a reluctance to become involved in making arrangements to look after an older child.”

The report says social services were too reactive and missed chances to explore individual incidents in more detail due to a ‘here and now’ approach. This, the report suggests, was in part due to increased workloads following the death of Baby P, which led to a greater emphasis on dealing with higher risk cases.

“Workload was an issue across the service and contributory factor in how the enquiries were conducted and assessment recorded,” said the report. “The implications of such an approach is that unless a dramatic or tangible concern impels further enquiry or action, the vulnerabilities and risks for children remain largely unknown.”

Nancy Palmer, the independent chair of the serious case review, said the parents unwillingness to engage with routine services “meant none of the various organisations that came into contact with the family had enough information to form a view about what life was really like for any of the children in this household, especially during the last few years. The review raises challenges for local and national policy makers to consider how far systems, such as provision of health care and enrolment for education, should rely on parents making the right decisions for their children.”

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the child protection charity the NSPCC, called the case “deeply saddening”.

“More than anything this case highlights how small but timely interventions at crucial points from professionals, but from the public too, could have prevented this tragedy,” he said. “It is utterly depressing that the first time all the information about the risks in Hamzah’s life were pulled together is a report which has only been written because he is dead. No one professional held all the information whilst he was alive to pull together the fuller picture that might have saved him.”

* Community Care is running a survey on how budget pressures are affecting child protection work

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