Learning from tragedy to improve help and protection

Josh MacAlister

In less than two week we’ve had two shocking, upsetting and incomprehensible reports of children being abused, humiliated and killed at the hands of people who should have loved and cared for them. My condolences and thoughts are with everyone who knew and loved Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson and especially for those who tried to prevent each tragedy and feel let down by the system. 

We owe it to Arthur, Star and too many other children, to ask deep and probing questions and to learn from their cases. Yesterday, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel into Arthur’s case published its terms of reference. Recommendations from the Review Panel will be made available to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care and we will take on board these recommendations before we report in Spring 2022. 

We also want to learn from the Joint Targeted Area Inspection into Arthur’s death as well as the review into Star Hobson’s murder – both are expected early in the new year.  

I have had the opportunity throughout this review to learn from the work of the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and their collective evidence has already shaped the thinking of my review. As well as reviewing their annual reports and thematic investigations, I have also had the opportunity to observe the panel in action. The national perspective and the multidisciplinary expertise makes the panel well placed to help England learn the right lessons from how professionals worked with Arthur and Star as well as too many other children who have suffered significant harm or who have died.  

We don’t yet know all of the circumstances of Arthur or Star’s cases but they have prompted a wider debate about child protection and therefore I thought it was important to say something about how the review is thinking about this more broadly.

There is a danger when discussions about children’s social care bluntly casts people into absolutist positions. I have said a number of times during the review that when children are at risk of significant harm, we need to be more decisive in providing effective support for families, and in making decisions if it is clear that support will not lead to enough change. The review has also highlighted the growth in child protection investigations without a corresponding increase in identified harm, and warned that this may make the children’s social care more adversarial with families and therefore less effective at keeping children safe. I believe that both of these positions can be true and this subject deserves debate that allows for ‘both and’ positions. 

Learning from these dreadful and tragic cases is important for all of us. This review will be unflinching in learning from the evidence about what happened, bold in considering the options for change that may be needed and open to the inherent complexity of children’s social care. Doing this may not always be easy but it is what is needed if we are to learn from the shocking death of Arthur, Star and too many other children. 

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