Family concerns for Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes were too often “disregarded and not taken sufficiently seriously”, says a report on how professionals failed to protect them.
Arthur, aged 6 from Solihull, and Star, 16 months from Bradford, were murdered by their parents’ partners in 2020.
Both “suffered horrific and ultimately fatal abuse”, said Annie Hudson, who chaired the review.
Their deaths reflect “fault lines” in child protection in England, she added.
Arthur and Star’s stories are not isolated incidents, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel said.
The “wider problems” the report highlights include poor information sharing between professionals and weak decision making.
The report urges the government to strengthen the child protection system at a national and local level.
Its publication follows Monday’s “once-in-a-generation” Independent Review of Children’s Social Care which called for a total reset of council-run children’s services across England.
“At the moment, each professional who comes into contact with a child holds one piece of the jigsaw of what is happening in a child’s life,” said Ms Hudson.
“Our proposed reforms would bring together experts from social work, police and health into one team so that they can have a better picture of what is happening to a child, listening carefully to relatives’ concerns and taking necessary actions to protect children.”
As part of the review, the panel interviewed just under 80 professionals in Bradford, Birmingham and Solihull as well as the children’s family members, including Star’s mother and her mother’s partner.
The current system is not “broken”, Ms Hudson said in the report: “Every day, many thousands of children are protected from harm by conscientious, committed and capable social workers, police officers, health, educational and many other professionals.”
However, these multi-agency arrangements “are not yet fit for purpose everywhere” and, as a consequence, hundreds of children are seriously harmed, she added.
What did the review say about Arthur and Star?
The review highlighted specific failings in each of the two cases.
Arthur was murdered in June 2020 by his stepmother Emma Tustin at their home in Solihull, West Midlands. His father Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of his son’s manslaughter.
The report found concerns about bruising, raised by family members, were not always taken seriously and his voice was not always heard.
Too many assessments relied on the perspective of his father, now in jail for manslaughter, it added.
- ‘Pivotal’ moment to save Arthur missed
Star was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend at her home in West Yorkshire, in September 2020. Star’s mother Frankie Smith, 20, was found guilty of causing or allowing the youngster’s death.
The report said concern from a family member was explained away as being malicious and rooted in a dislike of her mother’s same-sex relationship – and this view was “too easily accepted”, says the review.
It added that Bradford children’s social care was “in turmoil” in 2020 and this contributed to “superficial” assessments that failed to address the concerns of Star’s wider family.
Star’s great-grandfather, David Fawcett, said the report was “a lot to take in” but the family were “just hoping something will come out of this… We don’t want things happening to other children like what happened to Star.”
“If social services had done their job in their first place, I think Star… would still be with us,” he said.
Alicia Szepler, Star’s aunt, added: “If they’d [the authorities] have all just listened to each other and worked together then they might have actually found the truth of what was happening, the bigger picture.”
The report found child protection work is inherently complex, but the current system does not give professionals the best opportunity “to get to the truth of what life is like for children”.
It also identifies a reliance on quickly pulling together a team from overstretched agencies every time there is a child protection concern, which is “certainly inefficient and often ineffective”.
Its recommendations include:
- Dedicated child protection teams of police, healthcare staff and social workers to investigate allegations of serious harm to children in every council area
- A national child protection board to co-ordinate policy
- Ensuring all child protection assessments include input from all relevant professionals, family members and other significant adults
The review was commissioned in December 2021 by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi. He thanked Star and Arthur’s families for their contributions to the report and promised “a bold implementation plan later this year”.
“We must waste no time learning from the findings of this review – enough is enough,” he added.