Wales remains the only UK nation not to have commissioned a review of its children’s social care services, after the Welsh Government resisted calls to do so following the inquiry into Logan Mwangi’s murder.
Deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan announced action to improve safeguarding in a statement to the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) last week, following the publication of the child practice review into Logan’s death by Cwm Taf Morgannwg Safeguarding Board.
This included speeding up the development of a national practice framework for children’s services and asking the Care Inspectorate Wales to carry out a rapid review into structures and processes around decisions to add or remove a child from the country’s child protection register. Morgan, a former social worker, said she would “act on their findings, as necessary”.
However, she rejected calls from other Senedd members for an independent review of children’s social care – similar to those that have already been carried out in Scotland (2017-20) and England (2021-22) and the one currently in progress in Northern Ireland.
‘Now is the time for action, not further review’
“Having now read the child practice review, I remain convinced that the time is now for action and not for further review,” said Morgan. “The findings and recommendations of the child practice review have been generated with consideration of other reviews in England and Wales, and it must be our priority to do what we can now and not wait for another report to tell us what we know already that we have to do.”
The child practice review sought to learn lessons from events leading up to the murder, in July 2021, of five-year-old Logan by his mother, Angharad Williamson, her partner, John Cole, and a 14-year-old boy (known as Child Y) whom Cole had brought up as his own. His body was found near the family home in Bridgend.
Williamson began a relationship with Cole – who had an extensive criminal history – in 2019. They subsequently had a child (Child A) and, at times during the subsequent two years, lived with Cole’s long-term partner, Adult B, and her son, Child Y. Logan last saw his father, Benjamin Mwangi, in 2019.
Review chair Jan Pickles said Williamson and Cole “were found to have repeatedly lied to services”, saying “they used every opportunity to actively hide their abuse and their murder of Logan”.
Covid lockdowns exploited by killers
This included exploiting the coronavirus lockdown, which started in March 2020, “to evade scrutiny from agencies”. She said the situation meant that actions that would otherwise have caused concern – such as a child missing school or a delay in seeking medical assistance following injury – were seen as a consequence of Covid. Also, she said that remote practice “undoubtably had an impact on the robustness of assessments”.
A “significant missed opportunity” to help Logan occurred in August 2020 after a hospital accident and emergency department made a referral to Bridgend children’s services after he arrived with a broken arm and bruising to his cheek.
Cole and Williamson said Logan had fallen down the stairs, which was accepted by the police, and a strategy meeting concluded that the threshold for a child protection enquiry had not been met, despite checks uncovering Cole’s past convictions.
However, following a separate examination, a paediatrician identified further injuries to Logan but did not share these with children’s services, having apparently accepted Williamson’s explanations for them.
“Had further information from health been shared it most likely, though we cannot say for sure, in hindsight would have triggered a child protection assessment in line with joint agreed guidelines as the nature of those injuries clearly met the threshold,” said Pickles.
Two months on child protection register
Logan and his half-sister were placed on the child protection register in March 2021, under the categories of physical and emotional abuse, in relation to concerns over Cole’s criminal history, alleged coercive behaviour towards Williamson and Adult B and poor mental health. Just prior to this, Child Y had been placed on an interim care order after he reported being assaulted by his mother (Adult B) and Cole was not deemed an appropriate carer for him, having failed to protect him.
Over the next two months, practitioners undertook virtual and face-to-face visits, but the review found “an absence of a clear understanding of [Logan’s] lived experience within his family unit, evidenced in recordings and reports, to help professionals understand how he felt about his daily life”.
In May, Cole and Williamson applied to the family court to care for Child Y, with Bridgend council given just four weeks – much shorter than the norm – to carry out a parenting assessment of their ability to do so. This concluded that Cole should be Child Y’s primary carer, which was strongly supported by the Cafcass Cymru guardian.
In the same month, professionals removed Logan and his half-sister from the child protection register after unanimously agreeing they were no longer at risk of significant harm at a review conference. Instead, they would be provided with care and support. This was despite Williamson not having engaged in a domestic abuse survivors’ programme, as she had pledged to do, and Cole not taking part in a perpetrators’ programme, on the grounds that he did not consider himself to have committed domestic abuse.
Critical failure to inform Logan’s father
A critical failing identified by the review was agencies’ failure to inform Logan’s father that he had been placed on the child protection register. Minutes from the May 2021 review conference made reference to domestic violence and Logan’s longstanding lack of contact with his father as reasons for not contacting him, but the review said there was no evidence of him having perpetrated abuse towards Williamson.
Five days before Logan’s murder, Cole was granted a child arrangements order for Child Y, prompting a visit by the teenager’s social worker to the home. However, because Logan had contracted Covid, she did not see him.
In its conclusions, the review found that Logan’s voice “was not heard”, as the “complexities of the adult relationships” involved in his care “overshadowed professionals’ line of sight to him”.
It also found significant failings in relation to inter-agency working and risk assessment.
Pickles said that the area’s multi-agency safeguarding hub was not working as well as intended, “critically affected the ability of agencies involved to respond to this case, as no agency was ever able to develop a full picture of what was happening, despite all agencies having important pieces of information”.
‘Gaps in risk assessment and specialist skills’
The review said there were “gaps in risk assessments and specialist skills around interrogating and analysing evidence”, in the light of the family reporting different versions of events and family histories. Also, risk management plans, for example, in relation to Cole’s ability to care for children, were “stepped down without clear explanations as to how the risk had changed or could be managed in the longer term”.
Recurring themes in Cole’s relationships were also not “robustly considered”, with a lack of curiosity about his presence within the two families and the risks he posed.
However, the review also found that the practice failings occurred against a backdrop of “working environments under pressure that [did] not enable and create organisational conditions that support such complex work”, with limited opportunity for practitioners to reflect on the case.
Bridgend’s children’s services also had “an inconsistent approach to the quality assurance of assessments and planning across several areas of case management”, with limited evidence that child protection conference reports and care and support plans were consistently reviewed by supervisors.
Among its recommendations, the review called on Bridgend council to:
- Develop, embed, and maintain quality assurance and management oversight frameworks to ensure high-quality supervision, guidance and oversight of practice to tackle the inconsistencies it identified.
- Improve its approach to assessing and managing risk through a clear practice model, including “a clear framework for management oversight of safeguarding decisions and risk management plans”.
- Ensure all safeguarding staff are clear on the rights of all those with parental responsibility for a child to be informed of safeguarding concerns.
Council’s services improving but further progress needed
In an inspection of Bridgend earlier this year, the Care Inspectorate Wales found that it had improved following a critical check in April 2021 – three months before Logan’s murder – but found there was “variation in the quality of services and social work practice provided to children and families”.
The inspectorate said: “Sustainable progress at pace is now needed across a range of service delivery areas if the local authority is to consistently deliver their core business of
reducing risks to and promoting the well-being of children in need of help and protection.”
In response to the review, Bridgend’s director of social services and wellbeing, Claire Marchant, said: “The fact that we were unable to protect Logan will always remain a source of great sadness, and we are deeply sorry that our safeguarding and child protection endeavours did not prevent his death…Mr Mwangi, Logan’s dad, was not told his son was on the child protection register. As a council, we apologise unreservedly to Mr Mwangi that this was the case.”
She added: “For those of us who have dedicated our lives and careers towards the safeguarding and protection of children, Logan’s murder was the exact opposite of everything that we and our partners strive to prevent.
“The impact of his passing will remain with us always. It will be a driving force – a determination -to strive to improve our practice for the benefit of vulnerable children and adults alike.”
Call for minimum period for social work court assessments
The review also made five national recommendations that deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan told the Senedd the Welsh Government would take forward. These were:
- Developing guidance for child protection practitioners on their duty to inform and include all those with parental responsibility in assessments and processes.
- Considering a pan-Wales review of approaches to child protection conferences to identify best practice.
- Considering commissioning a national awareness campaign on reporting safeguarding concerns.
- Considering commissioning a review of case recording and information gathering and sharing systems across social care, police, health and education, with a focus on streamlining existing systems and processes.
- That the President of the Family Division of the High Court considers imposing a 12-week minimum period on social work assessments conducted during public law proceedings.