Councils pledge not to ignore families’ warnings about vulnerable children

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Council officials have pledged to give more weight to warnings from wider family members about vulnerable children after the murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, after alarms raised by relatives were disregarded before their deaths.

Executives from Solihull and Bradford local authorities told MPs on the education select committee that concerns raised by children’s wider families were sometimes dismissed as malicious after taking the views of the children’s parents “at face value”.

Star Hobson was 16 months old when she was beaten to death by her mother’s girlfriend in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in 2020. Social services failed to intervene despite repeated requests by Star’s great-grandparents and aunt.

Related: Arthur Labinjo-Hughes report: high number children still at risk in Solihull

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, aged 6, died after physical and psychological abuse by his stepmother and father, despite his grandmother and uncle raising concerns with his school and Solihull’s social services.

Photographs of bruising on Arthur’s shoulder were forwarded by his grandparents, but Solihull’s authorities instead accepted explanations given by his parents. He was later found to have 130 bruises all over his body.

Annie Hudson, the chair of the child safeguarding practice review panel, which has conducted investigations into both cases, told MPs a “very powerful theme” was that wider family concerns were not taken seriously.

“Probably the most important common theme was in relation to the way in which family concerns were not listened to, not followed up and generally disregarded,” said Hudson.

“At a number of very critical points there should have been much more heed taken of those concerns, concerns which were repeated over a period of time in relation to both children.”

Hudson said social work professionals, including the police and health workers, needed to “look critically” at their biases, such as assumptions that complaints from relatives were malicious because they disapproved of a relationship.

Tim Browne, the interim director of children’s services for Solihull council, said: “I think it’s very clear that not enough weight was given to the wider family,” with those who did visit not recognising what he called “disguised compliance” by Arthur’s parents.

“For me, from the council’s perspective, the pivotal point was that a strategy discussion meeting should have taken place following the photographs of the bruising being sent to the council. And that didn’t take place,” Browne said.

Kersten England, the chief executive of Bradford council, said her council’s assessments of Star Hobson had made a number of serious errors, including being “too positive and optimistic” about the mother’s care for Star, and that the views of her mother and partner had been “taken at face value” rather than investigated further.

Related: Star Hobson: victim of an ‘immature’ mother and her violent partner

Marium Haque, the interim strategic director of children’s services for Bradford council, said: “From looking at the records, I can understand and see very clearly that the way that the family was viewed, it was considered that the issues were raised as being malicious.”

Hudson also drew attention to the councils’ over-reliance on short-term agency staff, noting that one social worker failed to complete a report on Star Hobson, leaving the job a week after visiting her.

Nick Page, the chief executive of Solihull council, said that after Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ parents were convicted, the council had a 115% increase in contacts and referrals in a weekend.

Page said he was in favour of social workers being given body cameras to record visits. “I’ve got two social workers that have had to leave their own homes and move with their own children and families because of death threats,” Page said.

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