The government has launched a national review into the circumstances behind Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’s murder and commissioned an urgent safeguarding inspection into agencies in his area.
The national inquiry – led by the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel – replaces the local practice review that had been commissioned by Solihull Safeguarding Children Partnership.
It and the multi-agency inspection reflects the huge national outcry over Arthur’s murder by his stepmother – for which his father was convicted of manslaughter – amid concerns that agencies failed to effectively safeguard him.
Solihull council staff, including a social worker, had visited the boy’s home two months before his death after concerns were raised by his grandmother, but they said they found no cause for concern, according to BBC News reports.
‘We will not rest’
Announcing the review today, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “Given the enormity of this case, the range of agencies involved and the potential for its implications to be felt nationally, I have… asked Annie Hudson, chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, to work with leaders in Solihull to deliver a single, national review of Arthur’s death to identify where we must learn from this terrible case.
“We are determined to protect children from harm and where concerns are raised we will not hesitate to take urgent and robust action. We will not rest until we have the answers we need.”
Under Working Together to Safeguard Children, the review panel, which oversees local safeguarding reviews, can carry out a national review, having taken into account whether the case:
- highlights improvements needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including where those improvements have been previously identified;
- raises issues requiring legislative change or changes to guidance;
- highlights recurrent themes in the safeguarding and promotion of the welfare of children.
Besides the national review, Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission and the police and probation inspectorates will conduct an urgent joint targeted area inspection into agencies in Solihull.
Zahawi said this would “consider where improvements are needed by all the agencies tasked with protecting children in Solihull, so that we can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to protect other children and prevent such evil crimes”.
Effective response to Covid
The latter, which focused on responses to child exploitation, found: “The local authority has ensured that social workers continue to respond effectively to the needs of vulnerable children and families during the Covid-19 pandemic. Children have continued to benefit from face-to-face contact and support from social workers.”
This is in the context of speculation that Arthur being murdered during the first coronavirus lockdown, in June 2020.
The Department for Education said that, over the next few days, it would work with the review panel and Solihull partnership to agree the timeline for publication of the national review, and confirm the scope of the inspection.
Care review impact
The DfE’s statement mentioned the children’s social care review, led by Josh MacAlister, which is due to report by next spring.
It is unclear how this will interact with the review into Arthur’s case, and what attempt will be made to ensure their recommendations cohere.
Following the last major national review into a child death in England – Herbert Laming’s in 2009, in the wake of Peter Connolly’s murder (“the Baby P case) – there was a significant rise in the number of children subject to child protection investigations and plans, and taken into care.
In tandem with this and government cuts to local authority funding, the balance of council children’s services spending shifted from non-statutory to statutory provision.
This was an issue highlighted by MacAlister’s review, who called for a reinvestment in support for families.
‘Significant strides have been made’
In a response to the case, posted before the announcement of the national review, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said that “significant strides” had been made in recent years to improve child protection, including the use of relationship-based practice models.
President Charlotte Ramsden said: “As well as learning lessons and improving systems when things do not go as planned, children’s services need the ability to meet the needs of children and families as early as possible to avoid escalation.”
She cited the government’s planned rollout of family hubs – local support centres where families can gain access to a range of services – and its Supporting Families programme, which provides key worker support for families facing mulitple disadvantages, as examples of this.
However, Ramsden said that lockdowns had increased the challenges facing children’s services: “Over the course of the pandemic, local authorities and partners have continued to support all children and families, especially those with the most acute needs. The social restrictions introduced to protect wider public health unfortunately added a layer of extra complexity to what is already an incredibly complex and challenging area of work. Sadly, it is not possible to eliminate all risk.”
‘Don’t judge the entire profession’
In its response, the Social Workers Union said the profession should not be judged by a single, “extremely rare” case, and that the UK had among the best safeguarding systems in the world.
It said the record of recent reviews, such as Laming’s, and Eileen Munro’s in 2011, was more “paperwork, bureaucracy and skilled social workers leaving the profession”.
The union added that what was “urgently required” was more funding, saying: “Most social workers just don’t have enough time to spend on individual assessments due to work demand and changing workload allocations.”