Star Hobson and Arthur Lanbinjo-Hughes were murdered by members of their close family who have been rightly held accountable for these terrible crimes. But their cases also highlight, yet again, what can happen if public services do not work together effectively and information about vulnerable children is not shared in a timely way.
Today’s National Review into these tragic deaths, like the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care published earlier in the week, offers a clear analysis of where the system is failing children and underlines the urgent need for a cross-government strategy for children, with multi-agency working at its core.
Shocking as it is to say, none of the problems identified by the National Review are new or surprising: weaknesses in information sharing; superficial or partial engagement across agencies; a lack of specialist expertise in the workforce; and leadership that is not focused on sustained integration. Over the decades, independent reports, serious case reviews and government policy papers have all reached this same conclusion.
To address these long-standing challenges, the Review makes a series of important recommendations that deserve serious attention.
Multi-Agency Child Protection Units, mixed groups of experienced child protection professionals, offer the chance to create the integrated management structures needed for this complex work. A new Ministerial group to oversee the implementation of these new arrangements could provide clarity of purpose and drive change across departments. And we agree with the Review that it is time to revisit the decision to exclude schools, colleges and other education providers from the Statutory Safeguarding Partner role.
These recommendations must all be carefully considered alongside the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care final report published earlier in the week, as well as the important cross-government work on implementing a consistent identifier for children.
The National Review offers a compelling vision for strengthening child protection at both the national and local level. Yet we know this is a time of huge change for public services that are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic. Major structural reforms in the NHS, proposals in the SEND green paper, and a Schools Bill already in Parliament, must work in harmony with reforms to children’s social care without losing momentum for change.
The case for a cross-government strategy for children to draw these strands together has never been stronger. And fundamental change will need time and investment. The steady erosion of funding for early intervention must be halted, and excessive caseloads eased to prevent more skilled staff from leaving the workforce. Additional funding may seem a big ask of the public purse at a time when so many in our country are facing hardship. But if not now, when?