Arthur and Star cases show need for expert child protection units, review finds

Annie Hudson, Chair, Child Protection Practice Review Committee

The murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson demonstrate the need to entrust the practice of child protection to specialist multi-agency teams of expert practitioners.

This was the verdict delivered today by the Investigation of the Child Protection Practices Review Committee in the lessons of the murders of six-year-old Arthur and 16-month-old Star, in each case at the hands of the partner of one of their parents, with the complicity of those parents.

The panel, which is also tasked with analyzing serious child protection incidents reported by counsel, identified two key lessons to be learned from the cases:

  • Multi-agency child protection arrangements are too fragmented, with inadequate information sharing, making it “extremely difficult” to build and maintain an accurate picture of what a child’s life is like.
  • A need for “more advanced specialist skills and expertise in child protection, particularly in relation to complex risk assessment and decision-making; involving reluctant parents; understand the daily life of children; and domestic violence”.

Specialized Child Protection Units

Among a number of recommendations to address these issues, the review called for the creation of dedicated multi-agency child protection teams in each area, based within local authorities, but made up of secondments from police and health and social workers.

The units would be responsible for convening and leading strategy discussions, conducting Section 47 child protection investigations, chairing child protection conferences, supervising, d review and support child protection plans, recommend legal claims and advise other teams and agencies on child protection.

He said this arrangement would ensure fully integrated multi-agency decision-making throughout the child protection process, taken by people with the appropriate skills and expertise.

Accompaniment of the role of expert practitioner

With regard to social work, the panel supported the recommendation of the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, in its final report, published on Monday, to establish the role of expert child protection practitioners, obtained at the ‘future by passing a five-year test evaluated early career framework.

He also accepted the Care Review’s proposal that these expert practitioners work in conjunction with family support teams to avoid fragmentation. These teams will have worked to support the family before the start of child protection processes – but the panel stressed that child protection units should have decision-making power.

Police and unit health representatives should be well connected to their employment agencies and maintain their professional development to ensure they could coordinate the involvement of their professional colleagues in cases, enabling a effective multi-agency work.

The recommendation matches a proposal put forward in an article for Community Care last week by former government safeguard adviser Sir Alan Wood. This drew strong criticism from some social workers and academics, who argued that insufficient resources and excessive workloads – not a lack of skills – explained the challenges of child protection and that Wood’s proposal was not based on evidence.

“An extremely difficult and complicated task”

However, in an interview with Community Care, review board chair Annie Hudson said, “What we see very strongly in the Arthur and Star stories is, perhaps inevitably, that this what parents, parenting partners and caregivers say cannot always be taken at face value. value, and the ability to understand what people are saying is an extremely difficult and complicated task.

“But the way we organize our child protection systems does not allow the professionals carrying out some of the most difficult functions of public service to carry them out to the best of their abilities.”

She added that while all social workers in child services should have a good understanding of child safeguarding and protection, “there are additional skills and attributes that you need when undertaking this very difficult job of investigating abuse and supervising child protection work following an investigation”.

“Career development in social work has been neglected for too long”

Regarding the panel’s support for the care review’s proposed early career framework, Hudson – former chief executive of the now defunct College of Social Work – said: “I support these recommendations and this direction of travel and I firmly believe that for too long we have not offered social workers the opportunity for clearly structured and appropriately resourced career development.

“If you look at teaching, medicine, nursing and policing, those career development paths are well established. We haven’t had that in social work and I think that will be really crucial in terms of retaining social workers because it gives them the opportunity to grow.

The committee’s other recommendations were that the government:

  • Establish multi-agency national standards of practice for child protection, capturing the best available evidence of what works when working with children and families.
  • Establish a national child protection council involving representatives from central government, local government, police and health departments, to ensure better coordination of child protection policy and performance management.
  • Strengthen local multi-agency protection partnerships, in line with Care Review recommendations, to address issues such as lack of senior management representation, inadequate oversight of practice, and issues of agreement on levels of care. funding.
  • Increase the role of multi-agency inspection in holding partnerships accountable, strategically and operationally, thereby potentially reducing the number of single agency inspections.
  • Fund peer support for safeguarding partners, overseen by the panel itself, to share learning.
  • Convene a working group to improve the way data is used by professionals to better protect children.
  • Promote how protection partners work with domestic violence services and ensure that professionals in their field have adequate knowledge of the subject. The panel itself will produce a practical briefing this summer on protecting children in families where there is domestic violence.

Earlier in the week the Department for Education warmly welcomed the care review and gave its support in principle to the early career framework, with Children’s Minister Will Quince saying it would focus on improving child protection practices.

Zahawi: “We must not waste time learning from discoveries”

He will give a fuller response to the care review, alongside an implementation plan, later this year, and today Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said his full response to the report of the panel would also follow later.

However, he said: “We must not waste time learning from the findings of this review – enough is enough. I will set up a new Ministerial Child Protection Group, an immediate first step to respond to these findings, before setting out a bold implementation plan later this year to bring about a fundamental change in the way we support better outcomes for our most vulnerable children and families.”

In its response to the panel’s report, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services said there was learning for all local areas and government.

“For example, sharing and gathering timely and relevant information about children and their situation is key to getting a full picture of a child, their needs and the risks they face, as is getting enough resources from of all protection partners for child protection work,” said President Steve Crocker.

“Domestic violence is the most common reason children come to the attention of children’s social services, the learning that will come from the [panel’s] review on domestic violence this summer will be a useful addition to our understanding of this complex issue.

Administrators cautious about specialized units

Regarding the specialist unit panel proposal, Crocker expressed caution, adding: “We will need more detail to understand how these units would work in practice and the relationship to the wider child welfare system, in ensuring that lessons are learned from previous attempts to implement similar models while identifying any unintended consequences for children, families and our staff.

Referring to the Care Review’s recommendations for investment in child welfare reform and a focus on family support, he said: ‘Investment in early support and child protection work childhood is needed to shift the dial towards supporting children and families earlier, before they reach the point of crisis and we hope the government recognizes the call of the independent protection review Children’s Social Fund that an investment of £2.6billion is urgently needed to reset the system.

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