The deaths of six-year-old Arthur Labijo-Hughes and 16-month-old Star Hobson in 2020 prompted Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, to commission a report in December 2021 reviewing child protection measures in this country.
I am a solicitor specialising in claims against local authorities for children who have been failed. Many of the cases I deal with are sadly similar to the cases of Star and Arthur.
The report accurately highlights many of the failings that I find in my day to day work in these cases. The report found that professionals disregarded referrals of potential risk to Star and Arthur. They failed to protect them and this ultimately resulted in their death. Both “suffered horrific and ultimately fatal abuse”.
In many of the cases I deal with social workers have ignored referrals from many different sources. Concerns are not only raised by family members but by teachers and health professionals. Even the police become involved and often take the matter into their own hands obtaining police protection orders where they feel that a child is at risk.
What the report highlights is something common in many of these cases which is a lack of joined up thinking. This was particularly the case in many of the Rochdale abuse cases that I have dealt with. There is a lack of coordination between the education authority, social services, the police, and medical professionals. The report echoes my own experience confirming that multi-agency arrangements “are not yet fit for purpose everywhere” and as a consequence hundreds of children are seriously harmed.
It is scandalous that this continues. We have known for many years about the failings of the various bodies to coordinate child care responsibilities and it is reassuring to see that the report recommends dedicated Child Protection Teams of police, health care staff and social workers to investigate allegations of serious harm to children in every council area. This is long overdue.
I agree with the report’s comment that there are many social workers out there doing an excellent job. The problem we face is that when their conduct falls below an acceptable standard the repercussion can be terrible and sometimes fatal. Star and Arthur sadly lost their lives as a result. Many of the children I act for suffer serious physical and sexual abuse sometimes over many years which has a lifelong impact.
Developments in the civil law in recent times have undermined the accountability of social services. Following the Supreme Court ruling in CN & GN v Poole Borough Council it is now unclear as to the extent to which a social services department owes a duty of care to a child in the position of Star and Arthur. It is a scandal that no duty of care is owed to the most vulnerable children in society and the courts are presently considering various cases which may revisit the impact of CN & GN v Poole Borough Council. Whilst there remain remedies under the Human Rights Act, local authorities are also keen to try and limit the extent of their liability in cases where they have clearly failed to protect children.
The cases of Arthur and Star show what can happen when we ignore concerns about a child’s welfare.
I therefore welcome this report and hope that the recommendations in relation to multi-agency arrangements are quickly put in place and that as we move forward each council has a child protection department which coordinates closely with schools/health visitors/police.
We continue to bring claims against local authorities for their failings securing many millions of pounds in damages for victims every year. Whilst there will always inevitably be some failings by local authorities which will be actionable, it must be hoped that the proposals help to reduce the suffering of many children in this country following social work failing.
If you would like to discuss the possibility of bringing a claim against the local authority for social services failings, you can contact our dedicated abuse line in confidence on 0330 134 6430, or get in touch by email or through the online chat below.