Campaigners have expressed their dismay at the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s decision not to publish a report which analysed 48 separate incidents where children in care died or were seriously harmed.
A coalition of organisations led by Article 39 requested the report to be made public in order to “collectively learn from incidents where highly vulnerable children have suffered grave harms”.
The coalition contacted the Panel prior to its publication of its reports into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.
The letter said: “Your Panel is leading two national reviews into the appalling deaths of two young children, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. The reports from these reviews are due to be published at the end of May 2022, and they will feed into Josh MacAlister’s analysis and recommendations for child protection.”
“In a similar vein, we believe it is vital that your Panel’s analysis of 48 incidents where looked after children died or were seriously harmed is made public and can contribute to policy development around the children’s care system,” the letter added.
The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel published the report into Arthur and Star’s deaths at the end of May just days after the final report of the independent review of children’s social care was published.
The Panel recommended the introduction of Multi-agency Child Protection Units - integrated and co-located multi-agency teams staffed by experienced child protection professionals – established in every local authority area. The units will include professionals with huge levels of child protection expertise and experience and will see the key child protection agencies of the police, health and social care working together as a single team.
However, in response to the request to publish the report into the 48 incidents where children in care were seriously harmed or died, the Panel said the work was not carried out with publication in mind.
The response from Panel Chair Annie Hudson said: “As part of the Panel’s work, in 2020, we considered in greater detail a selection of incidents involving looked after children who had died or suffered serious harm. This focussed on 48 incidents where children had become looked after as a result of abuse or neglect. The primary purpose of this work was to inform the Panel’s overall knowledge and analysis of reviews about serious child safeguarding incidents. We regularly consider incidents in a more thematic way to determine what further work we might want to undertake. These relatively small scale and internal pieces of work are intended to support our general work programme.
“In this particular example, a number of the incidents involved had already been reviewed as a Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, the findings of these are, or will be, in the public domain. We recognised that there were some general findings emerging from this piece of work that warranted inclusion in our latest Annual Report (2020). These findings highlight the importance of commissioning and sufficiency of high quality residential and foster placements for looked after child displaying high risk and challenging behaviour. Our Annual Report also provides important insights into other issues including the impact of parental mental health and children who are being electively home educated.
“We are not able to provide you with a report from this piece of work. As stated above, the primary purpose was to inform the Panel’s overall knowledge of incidents – the learning from which has been shared – and the work was not carried out with publication in mind,” the response added.
Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said: “It cannot be right that the national child safeguarding body and the Department for Education are sitting on a report which analyses the deaths and serious harms suffered by children in the care of the state when government policy quite rightly expects transparency and collective learning when highly vulnerable children are not protected within their families. All children have the same right to protection, and it’s simply unacceptable that there is public and parliamentary scrutiny when children die at the hands of their parents and carers in the community, but to then have secrecy when it comes to children in care.
“The child safeguarding panel’s analysis of what went wrong for children in care should have informed government policy on the use of unregulated accommodation, and it should be contributing now to other urgent changes in the care system so that every child, whether they are 6 or 16 years old, feels safe and secure. The whole purpose of the panel is to facilitate learning and improvements in child protection across the country, irrespective of how and where children came to be seriously harmed,” she added.
Carole Littlechild, Chair of Nagalro – the professional association for family court advisers, children’s guardians and independent social workers – added: “It is an extraordinary indictment on current policy that it should be regarded in any way acceptable for the national statutory body for child safeguarding to keep back vital information about children of 16 and 17 who die or who are seriously harmed whilst in local authority care. To withhold such crucial detail when policy about unregulated placements for that age group of children was being developed betrays both those children and future children who should be able to rely on state protection and safe care.”
The coalition included representatives from BASW, Children England, Coram Group, Just for Kids Law, Nagalro and the Association of Lawyers for Children.
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