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Set up ‘expert child protection units’ across the country, panel says

A review set up after the tragic deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson is calling for every area to have a dedicated, multi-agency ‘expert child protection unit’.

25/05/22

Set up ‘expert child protection units’ across the country, panel says

The national child safeguarding practice review has called for social workers to be part of dedicated multi-agency teams alongside experts in police and health in investigating allegations of serious harm to children.

It is suggested that the proposed new units would “undertake investigation, planning and oversight of children at risk.”

The review, carried out by the national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, investigated the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson – two high-profile child protection cases which dominated news headlines in December last year.

The Panel found that the cases were not isolated incidents and were indicative of system-wide issues in child safeguarding practice. It said that problems with poor information sharing between professionals and weak decision-making meant that concerns raised by family members about physical abuse were not properly investigated by police and social workers.

The review also recommended establishing national multi-agency practice standards for child protection to provide consistency in practice for working with children at risk and their families across the country. It also proposed establishing a national Child Protection Board, bringing together all relevant central Government departments, local government, the police, education and health representatives.

Releasing its final report, the Panel called on the Government to strengthen the child protection system at a national and local level so that there is a more effective joined-up response.

“Professionals working to protect children have to deal with the most complex challenges and some perpetrators of abuse will evade even the most robust safeguards. However, in too many instances, there is inadequate join-up in how agencies respond to high-risk situations where children are being abused,” Panel Chair, Annie Hudson said.

The former Director of Children's Services and Chief Executive of The College of Social Work until its closure said that each professional who comes into contact holds one piece of the jigsaw in what is happening in a child’s life.

“Our proposed reforms would bring together experts from social work, police and health into one team so that they can have a better picture of what is happening to a child, listening carefully to relatives’ concerns and taking necessary actions to protect children.”

In response to the report, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said the Government would be setting up a ministerial group as a ‘first and immediate step’ before setting out an implementation plan later this year.

“Nothing is more tragic than the death of a child, but when that child dies as a result of abuse or neglect it is incomprehensible. The deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson appalled the nation and highlighted the urgent need for action and change.”

“We must waste no time learning from the findings of this review – enough is enough,” The Education Secretary and former Children’s Minister said.

In addition to recommendations at a national level, several local recommendations were made for safeguarding partners in Solihull and Bradford, where the murders of Labinjo-Hughes and Hobson took place.

The independent national Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel is an independent body that was set up in July 2018 to identify, commission and oversee reviews of serious child safeguarding cases. The Panel was commissioned to conduct an independent national review into Arthur and Star’s deaths after reports raised concerns that family members warned professionals about physical abuse, but that these were not properly investigated by police and social workers.

“Arthur and Star’s deaths shocked us all and have left a lasting scar on the nation,” Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said. “It is heart-breaking that it had to take these tragedies to shine a light on the shortfalls in the child protection system. Now, we must ensure the memory of Arthur and Star acts as a catalyst for the fundamental changes necessary to prevent further deaths.

“This review lays bare an all too familiar story of a system struggling to cope. Social workers, police, health practitioners and teachers however hard they are working as individuals know they cannot do this alone. To drive change in child protection we agree that national, political leadership is needed which must come from the very top of government.

“We also welcome the ambitious recommendations to strengthen professional practice, embed effective multi-agency working and, crucially, to introduce more robust oversight to ensure the system is working to prevent harm and respond decisively to keep children safe in local areas.”

The recommendations come just days after the long-awaited Care Review published its final report, which included a proposal to strengthen child protection through a new expert social worker role to jointly work alongside new early help teams where there are serious child protection concerns, and boost multi-agency and information sharing arrangements. The Government will now be looking at how these proposals can be implemented.

Steve Crocker, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), said the Child Safeguarding Review Panel’s report and its recommendations need to be viewed alongside the Care Review’s final report, adding that social work leaders in local government are committed to working with partners to improve the way they support and safeguard children.

“Arthur and Star’s young lives have been cut tragically short, and that is heart-breaking. The National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s report is a contribution to our ongoing national learning as a multiagency safeguarding system tasked with protecting children and young people from harm.”

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