Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: national review launched

Government also commissions Ofsted and fellow inspectorates to inspect Solihull safeguarding agencies urgently

Nadhim Zahawi
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi

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 Childrenthe 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

Solihull was rated ‘requires improvement’ at its last full inspection in 2019, and received a positive report following a focused visit in August this year.

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.”

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20 Responses to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: national review launched

  1. Anoun December 5, 2021 at 7:46 pm #

    What about the little boy kamal that died in 2018 and the trial is only taking place against his mother and her partner he has not been laid to rest 3 years on from his muder were is his justice. It is noted that more could have been done. We have to consider how long the sw had been practicing.
    If what parents said was consistant with what the children said. Children should be spoken to on there own did the social feel in fear not to undertake the request. Social workers need professional curiosity. Frontline social workers need at least three years experience to be able to safeguard and have an understanding of the different cycles of deprivation noticing dishonesty in parents. More hands on work is required alongside funding

    • Tom J December 6, 2021 at 11:14 am #

      A key question from all of this will be ‘how authoritarian do we want social workers to be?’

      If a child is not at school when the visit is needed a home visit will be needed.

      How can a child be seen alone in this scenario?

      1. See child alone in the home. This is tricky as child may be conscious that parents are listening. Many children live in small properties. I certainly would if my child was visited today.

      2. Even if the child does live in a giant home. Would they be able to disclose to a unknown social worker whilst the parent/s sit downstairs?

      3. Should social workers demand that parents leave the home. If yes, what if they refuse?

      4. Should the social worker take the child out on a walk? What if parents or the child refuse?

      I do fear that a knee jerk; authoritarian approach with all families will cause more harm than good.

      • Vivienne Hill December 11, 2021 at 2:40 am #

        If the right questions are not asked how can the right solutions be found. Social workers practice under the law of the Children Act 1989 and other pieces of legislations. And the aim is to safeguard and promote children’s welfare.
        Some children may just need services, while others need protecting or even both.
        It for social workers to have the right balance under legislation Regulations and Guidance.
        It’s that age old question which came first, the chicken or the egg?
        Meaning that some children may need help by way of servvices ond others may need help by way of protective measure,
        There was some evidence that the local authority failed to protect Arthur from harm of his stepmother. However the law states that local authhoritiess have a duty to protect children from harm.
        When a local authority fails to do so, such local authority needs to learn lessons and be responsibly or take responsibility and be accountable for failing to protect the child.
        Obviously child protection is a complex area, and. whether strengthening working together to safeguard children needs looking at to establish how this is actually practiced or whether local authorities need tto learn to work in partnership with parents
        and be more open and honest themselves to have better relationships with parents. What needs to be learnt is that the bigger picture needs to be looked at rather than those with the attitude of pointing the finger which does not provide solutions for children to be protected from harm.

  2. Kate Blyth December 5, 2021 at 7:54 pm #

    The CQC are not fit for purpose, it’s about time they were disbanded, social workers say they are over worked.

    • Lisa Peters December 5, 2021 at 10:52 pm #

      The CQC don’t monitor child protection social Work ofsted do!

  3. Lisa Peters December 5, 2021 at 10:51 pm #

    Social workers need resources, effective supervision from experienced practitioners, they need time to spend working with and helping children and families. No social worker makes a decision in isolation all case work is overseen by a manager. The fact is they are worked into the ground due to the poor leadership and management of services and lack of government funding. Austerity measures have seen the profession struggle for years. They are having to work in an environment where, due to the number of referrals coming in and the lack of social workers joining the profession, child protection social workers particularly, the level of risk that needs to be managed is extremely high. This means that many children and families don’t get the early help they need and often social workers are fire fighting.They are expected to do double the amount of work in half the time and scapegoated when things go wrong. They are leaving the profession in droves because of the lack of support, high caseloads and stress along with the frustration at a system that they also have to fight against to support the families they are trying to help. Most people, including Boris and his cronies, have absolutely no idea what front line social workers have to deal with and until they do they should wind their necks in. Society is as much to blame as anyone, When you bury your heads in the sand, have not sense of community, never take action yourselves and then just point the finger. Always easier to blame someone else than take any responsibility yourself and that goes for this bloody government who only care about doing the right thing when they get caught out 🤬

    • A Chima December 6, 2021 at 11:56 am #

      Couldn’t have put it better myself. 25 years since I qualified , and the BS is the same . You can’t fatten a pig by weighing it. No amount of ‘reviewing’ or increased procedure will change a thing . There are not enough Social Workers, and resources have been decimated on all sides. This is the inevitable outcome.

  4. Chris Sterry December 6, 2021 at 1:15 pm #

    We all know that Social care is in a very great crisis, not only Childrens, but also adult. But what does this Government do, ‘just fiddle while Rome burns’, in other words nothing of any significance.
    This and previous Tory Governments have made enormous cuts to Local Authority funding and this in turn to Social care budget and lack of finance has to be a major factor.

    As does the shortage of Social Workers, both this and lack of finance leading to massive overburdening of work on social workers and maybe lack of any real supervision are also factors.

    While this does not mean lack of quality work should follow, but stress and many other factors are bound to be affecting working qualities.

    Yes, further questioning should have took place, but when a social worker comes upon a united front from parents and maybe some resistance what is a social worker supposed to do, when coupled by possible lack of understanding. But also supervisors and care managers will also. be over worked.

    This state of affairs can’t continue, but this Government has to listen and take the required actions, which is mainly down to finance, or sever lack of.

    But it is not only major problems in social services departments, but in every aspect of social care, care homes, home care, etc. As there are substantial lack of staff in every area.

    This Government is saying they are supplying funding, but a few million here and there is no way sufficient, as it requires billions at least £10- £12 and then it may only bring funding back to 2010 levels, which even then was insufficient.

    The whole crisis is very, very severe and this only brings more pressures on to the NHS, creating even more problems.

    This Government appears to be incapable of understanding the situation or more than likely not wishing to understand, but then no previous Governments have done so, no matter which party.

  5. Ann Crossley December 6, 2021 at 1:24 pm #

    Thousands of children’s centres closed in recent years, health visitors visits to under 5’s reduced to practically nothing and over stretched – social workers qualifying with lots of academic boxes ticked and no life experience, managers responding to Ofsted PI’s and data collection – as opposed to real hands on social work. Police, s/w’s and care staff all overloaded and spread too thin.
    No wonder irresponsible and cruel carers can get away with bullying and torturing the vulnerable charges in their care.

  6. Claire December 6, 2021 at 2:26 pm #

    Maybe we are doing the wrong kind of social work.

  7. Debra Gibbs December 6, 2021 at 2:58 pm #

    There is little more disturbing than the tragic death of a child at the hands of people he legitimately expected to love him, care and protect him. The Case for Change Review recommendations will come too late to save him, but let’s not think this will be the last child in need of protection; sadly there will be more, and we all have a part to play. The Social Worker, Manager and associated professionals will surely feel responsible, which is wrong but leaving that heavy cloak in the hands of a National Enquiry is not the answer either. We none of us should be satisfied that we have done enough until there is a strong community around the family, the extended family, the voluntary sector and the statutory services, accepting and agreeing to raise each child as their own. My Organisation is galvanised by the idea that services need to be delivered at a local level, by local people talking to one another, caring, being a nosey neighbour, making those calls. And of course this will lead to more referrals and people far and wide will lament the shortage of Foster Carers and difficulty in supporting Kinship Carers, but we can do better, caring for them too. We can talk to those that have done their bit and put themselves forward to ensure that they have all that they need. Let’s put a collective arm around them all.

  8. Anon December 6, 2021 at 3:31 pm #

    Everyone blaming the social workers! Child protection is a multiagency decision all of which have been impacted by detrimental cuts, the professionals are unable to do their jobs effectively because there are not enough of them and case loads are too high!

  9. Louise December 6, 2021 at 6:52 pm #

    The child was visited. The question remains why the injuries were ignored. If you fall over and bruise yourself, the bruising will develop and what was seen were the latter stages of bruising which still calls into question what the bruises looked like and one has to determine what may have happened. The chances are there may have been more bruising unseen unless the child was taken for a full examination. If the family member sent photos, I fail to see why this child wasn’t taken for an examination. The parents have rights, but if they have nothing to hide why should they object. Being objective is sensible but when it comes to child protection and formal agencies, more stringent measures must be taken.

    • dk December 7, 2021 at 1:16 pm #

      So, social workers should be able to take children they and their organisation don’t have PR for to (potentially invasive and traumatic) medical examinations regardless of what the people with PR think or say about that? I wonder what your average consultant paediatrician thinks of that.

      Is that the level of power we want local authority social workers to have over children and families?

  10. Frasierfanclub1 December 6, 2021 at 11:30 pm #

    A child has died and the people to blame for his death are rightly behind bars. The mud slinging has begun and scapegoats are being sought as we speak. Everybody has an opinion, based upon the benefit if knowledge and hindsight and the question on everyone’s lips is how can those chances to save him have been missed? Quite easily when the social worker has been asked to investigate a bruise, adequately explained away by a child who prese Ted as happy and content, a child in the care if a .couple determined to avoid detection. We don’t know what happened on the social worker visit and I can only extend my hand out to them in love and solidarity because that worker is any and every single one of us.

  11. Annaleese December 7, 2021 at 12:46 pm #

    We are all social workers and we are the system so thank who ever you deify that this time it wasn’t you. There will be a next time because once the social workers are sacrificed the system will grind on. Nothing will change, our work will not be more manageable, our bosses will still evade accountablity, our supervisor will not be more thoughtful. Howl at your fellow social workers but how ever more skilled you think you are, you too will miss something you shouldn’t have, you too would have scraped close to a mistake. If that is what happened here. If we don’t support each other as critical colleagues who do you expect to do that. Those of you piling in need to remember that fir the Daily Mail you are all culpable. In perpetuity.

  12. Shamim December 7, 2021 at 12:48 pm #

    Agencies have a job to do under pressure or not. If a child is spoken to appropriately (age manner), the child in question will respond and innocently say things an adult would conceal.
    There have been too many stories and now another tragedy. The child in question should had been removed regardless. An unhappy and hungry child would demonstrate classic signs without words. It seems the officers concerned just carried out the visit to shut concerned families, friends and neighbours, avoiding any concerns for the child in question.
    I believe, the failing is punishable and should dealt with.
    I am a grandparent and have similar aged grandchildren. After learning about this tragedy, I was appalled and sick to my stomach. In addition, when learning that the child was visited by social services two months prior to his tragic end, no words can describe my feelings.
    People who could had changed the ending of this tragedy also need to be brought to justify their decision to the forefront. Reflecting on liability of their actions and decisions will send a message to many that they are dealing with life and death outcomes. I’m sure the answer to my above lines will be given by social services, ‘we do’ exactly that but you still failed another innocent child.
    My heart and prayers go out to the families concerned as this will be etched on their hearts and minds forever. May you all find some solace as time passes.

  13. dk December 7, 2021 at 1:34 pm #

    So much of the reaction to Arthur’s murder is deeply depressing to me.

    How can we have faith in a political system (and not just a child protection system) where those leading on or playing significant roles in a review have already publicly made clear their views on how that review should conclude? I’m thinking here of Arthur’s MP and the chair of the education select committee speaking in very concrete terms about agencies not communicating with each other and individuals and agencies being “held to account” and not being able to “use” the social distancing restrictions as “excuses”. This is terrible governance, no matter what policy area it relates to, and it should alarm the profession and the general public equally that decision-makers don’t feel a need to even pretend consideration of the facts (as they can be established) is necessary in reaching conclusions.

    The surge of defensiveness from social workers is perhaps understandable on an emotional level, but we too need to withhold judgement. Save a select few, we do not know what happened in how Arthur’s casework was managed. It may be there were thinking errors or issues with practice, and we need to be able to hear that. Let’s be clear, resources and bureaucracy (much of it the consequence of similarly-natured reviews) are huge barriers to meaningful work being undertaken with children, but they are not the only issues that impair good social work.

    After Arthur, my heart goes out to the children and families who will, and I have no doubt this will happen, be unnecessarily or disproportionately damaged by more punitive and oppressive social work practices over the coming months. Where the consequences are far more dire for a rare false negative than they are a common false positive, the response is always going to be intruding on and disrupting family life more than is likely needed. I do think it is very possible agencies might have been able to do more and that more could have saved Arthur’s life, and that a review is necessary. I just also think alongside that that a review that sells itself as aiming to eradicate child murder is willfully disingenuous. Any meaningful review would be of the profession as a whole and would be asking a deeply uncomfortable question; just how much power do you want to give social workers and local government over people’s lives in the hope of accurately predicting and preventing murder?

    • Colin December 9, 2021 at 12:05 pm #

      No need for extra powers, it seems passion and common sense is all we need.


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