the problem of national reviews on child abuse

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The UK government has launched a nationwide study into the horrific abuse and murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Arthur was six when he was killed in Solihull by his stepmother, Emma Tustin. He had endured months of physical and emotional torture by Tustin and his partner, Arthur’s biological father, Thomas Hughes.

Tustin was convicted of murder and child cruelty and sentenced to a minimum of 29 years in prison. Hughes was convicted of manslaughter and child cruelty and sentenced to 21 years. Nadhim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education, said the purpose of the national review is to establish the circumstances that led to Arthur’s death and to “determine what improvements are needed for agencies that have entered in contact with him in the months preceding his death. ”.

The government has yet to announce the parameters of the review, but it will be led by a panel of national experts and will likely include interviews with all practitioners involved as well as those close to Arthur. The review is also likely to include a review of relevant documents, such as police and children’s service records, and to consult with other practitioners and families with experience in the child protection system. In the region.

Such reviews can contribute to a more effective and appropriate child protection policy and practice. The government has commissioned an investigation into the response to allegations of child sexual abuse in Cleveland, which is believed to have had a major impact on educating practitioners and the public about the phenomenon. But how and why such reviews are conducted raises many issues.

There is a well-established system in England for conducting local inquiries or inquiries into fatal incidents or other serious incidents of child abuse or neglect. Solihull’s council began such a review after Arthur’s death, but suspended it during his parents’ trial. A similar review, on the West Midlands Police’s response to concerns about Arthur, was completed in June 2020 and is expected to be released soon.

Both of these journals were dropped, replaced not only by the national journal, but also by an inspection of the safeguarding agencies in Solihull of which Arthur was known. This inspection will be carried out by four national bodies covering social services, health, police and probation. It will also include a review of the effectiveness of all agencies responsible for protecting children at risk of abuse and neglect in Solihull.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi called for a national review of Arthur’s case.
Mark Kerrison / Alamy Stock Photo

What concerns me is that government ministers have let their emotions get the better of them. While I can sympathize with this given the nature of Arthur’s case, I think they did not properly reflect on the decision to replace two scheduled local exams with three national exams – especially since they don’t there were no immediately apparent national problems. I’m concerned that leading the central government review will be heavier and longer – and delay the lessons we can learn from this case.

What have we learned?

Over the past 50 years, there have been dozens of reviews of national significance into similar cases, including the inquiries into the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Baby P, as well as the crimes of Jimmy Savile. Indeed, there are currently two national reviews on child protection and child abuse in England.

Child welfare charity, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, found that over 1,500 (mostly local) reviews of child abuse and neglect had been undertaken in England, Scotland and Wales since 1945. National and local reviews have been helpful. . Practitioners have become better informed about the risks children face in cases of abuse and neglect, and have improved their response to these cases.

But during these reviews, there were several hundred child deaths due to abuse and neglect. Obviously, the value of these reviews is limited.

The biggest problem with these reviews is that they can distract from other critical child protection issues, such as the enormous pressures under which social workers and other practitioners must work. Such risks are clear in Arthur’s case, as evidenced by the willingness of politicians to criticize the way agency workers allegedly responded to concerns about Arthur. Julian Knight, MP for Solihull, demanded that it be established “who failed Arthur and how he failed … the investigation [must focus] following the clear breakdown of partnerships between social services, the police and educators. Why the hell weren’t they talking to each other? “

Timothy Loughton, a former minister for children, claimed there had been a “lack of data sharing” and “joined in”. These criticisms only came after gaining access to all the information in the criminal trial – information that was not available to the agency workers when they were carrying out their investigations.

Missing resources

Many of the child protection problems are not due to alleged inadequacies of individual workers, but rather to insufficient resources. Over the past decade, funding for public services responsible for child protection has suffered major cuts.

More than 1,000 children’s centers have closed, there are 30% fewer school nurses and funding for women’s shelters has been cut by £ 7million. Along with these reductions, the number of children in the population has increased, as have demands on child protection services.

The national review and associated investigations may have some value, but that does not detract from the hundreds of investigations that have preceded and the hundreds of children who have continued to die of abuse and neglect. Society has a moral duty to Arthur to appreciate what is right about child welfare in England, but also to recognize what is really wrong.


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