- Freedom of Information requests show there were 26,307 cruelty cases last year
- Alarming figure from forces in England represents average of 72 cases per day
- Comes after Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson cases ‘left scar on nation’
Cases of child cruelty and neglect have surged by 25 per cent in the past year with more than 26,000 offences logged by police forces across England, new figures show.
Freedom of information (FOI) requests reveal there were 26,307 cruelty and neglect offences reported in 2021/22, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
The alarming figure, collected from 36 of the country’s 39 forces, represents an average of 72 cases a day, and is a 25 per cent increase from the 21,102 cases counted the year before.
It comes two weeks after the publication of the Independent Review into Children’s Social Care and the National Review into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, which showed the need for a ‘reset of the child protection system’.
Arthur was subjected to a sustained campaign of cruelty and torture by his stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, and his father Thomas Hughes 29 – who starved and ultimately beat the six-year-old to death in June 2020.
Star was just 16 months old when she was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in September 2020.
Relatives of both children had tried to raise the alarm with social services.
Several other similar cases have shocked the nation over the past year, including that of five-year-old Logan Mwangi, who was murdered by his mother, stepfather and an unnamed 14-year-old boy last July.
But in yet another astonishing failing by social services, workers missed at least two opportunities to rescue the schoolboy from the clutches of his parents John Cole, 40 and Angharad Williamson, 31, who ‘kept him prisoner’ in his dark bedroom – likened to a ‘dungeon’ – with a baby gate barring him from leaving after testing positive for coronavirus on July 20.
The NSPCC released its latest figures on Friday, Childhood Day, to highlight the importance of everyone playing their part in keeping children safe.
The charity urged that vulnerable children are prioritised due to the scale of the problem coming out of the pandemic.
It has also called for children’s social care in England to focus on early intervention and political leadership from the top of Government.
Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: ‘The statistics we have released today demonstrate the worrying scale of abuse and neglect. This must be a priority for the Government.
‘The evidence from a series of reviews have shown where and how to better resource and support a child protection system that works better for all those who need it. Now is the time for action.
‘But our message isn’t just for politicians. It’s vital to remember that child abuse can be prevented.
‘As thousands of people get behind Childhood Day today, they demonstrate their support for positive change and their willingness to play a part in keeping children safe.’
For Childhood Day, schools across the UK are taking part in the NSPCC’s Big Breaktime, an extra hour of play to help raise funds.
The NSPCC also urges anyone with concerns about a child, even if they are unsure, to contact its helpline on 0808 800 5000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in the online form.
It comes after a review ordered after the horrific deaths of Star and Arthur late last month found relatives’ warnings were ‘too often’ disregarded by social services.
The way child protection is approached in England needs to ‘change fundamentally’, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel said.
Its experts concluded that dedicated child protection teams made up of experienced police, healthcare staff and social workers should be set up in every council area to prevent similar tragedies from happening again.
The national review found that the fatal abuses suffered by Arthur, six, and Star, 16 months, ‘are not isolated incidents’, but reflective of wider problems with poor information sharing and weak decision-making.
The two children suffered horrific deaths at the hands of their parents and step-parents in 2020 despite relatives in both cases raising concerns with the authorities about suspected ongoing abuse in the months before they were killed.
The review was ordered by the Education Secretary as the country reeled from the murder trials which shed shocking light on the abuse perpetrated in each case.
It found that the concerns raised by their wider family members were ‘too often’ disregarded and not properly investigated – with Arthur’s father being considered a ‘protective father’ while complaints about Star’s parents were deemed to be ‘malicious’.
Professionals were increasingly kept at arms length by those perpetrating the abuse, and they failed to identify a ‘pattern of parental disengagement and avoidant behaviour’, the report also found.
In response to the findings, Arthur’s cousin, Bernie Dixon, told Sky News that the ‘whole system needs an overhaul’.
She added: ‘If they suspect there’s abuse I believe they should have the power to remove that child.
‘The RSPCA can remove a dog but social services can’t remove a child without official documentation and I think that needs to be looked at for emergency purposes.’
The report recommends dedicated multi-agency teams staffed by experienced child protection professionals be set up in every local authority area to investigate allegations of serious harm to children.
The review also concluded that the Government should establish a national child protection board to better co-ordinate child protection policy.
In a foreword to the report, review chairwoman Annie Hudson said the current safeguarding system is not broken, but there is too much ambiguity and inconsistency which does not serve children, their families or professionals well.
Existing multi-agency safeguarding arrangements ‘are not yet fit for purpose everywhere’, she added.
The review was commissioned in December 2021 by Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi following the deaths of Arthur and Star to look at what could be done to prevent things from going so ‘horrifyingly wrong’ in future.
The panel interviewed just under 80 professionals in Bradford, Birmingham and Solihull; the children’s family members, including Star’s mother and her mother’s partner; and drew on 1,500 rapid reviews of serious incidents since it was formed.
It found that child protection work is inherently complex, but the current system does not give professionals the best opportunity at cutting through this complexity ‘to get to the truth of what life is like for children’.
It identified 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’.
The review noted the importance of challenging assumptions and biases relating to culture, ethnicity, gender and sexuality when safeguarding children.
It said the role of women in perpetrating abuse may have impacted on how professionals perceived the risk to children, ‘given societal beliefs about women as caregivers’.
Arthur was murdered in June 2020 by his stepmother Emma Tustin while his father Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of his son’s manslaughter.
During the trial, the court heard Arthur was subjected to horrific abuse in the months before his death.
He was regularly beaten, starved and deprived of water and food he was given was sometimes laced with salt by Tustin to make it inedible.
The six-year-old suffered an unsurvivable brain injury while in the care of Tustin at her home in Solihull and died on June 16, 2020.
The review said a judgment seemingly became fixed early on that Mr Hughes was a ‘protective father’, which was reasonable at the time but was never challenged when circumstances changed.
Concerns about Arthur’s bruising raised by family members were not taken seriously, photographs of the bruising were not shared between agencies, his voice was not always heard and too many assessments relied on his father’s perspective, it found.
Star was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in September 2020.
Star’s mother Frankie Smith, 20, was found guilty of causing or allowing the youngster’s death.
During the murder trial, prosecutors described how the injuries that caused Star’s death involved extensive damage to her abdominal cavity ’caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen’ – with all the force of a crashing car.
As doctors fought to save her, they found half her blood supply pooling in her abdomen and damage to her liver, pancreas and kidneys.
The court heard social services missed five opportunities to stop Star’s killers in the months before her death
The newly published review has found that an explanation that concern from a family member might have been malicious and rooted in a dislike of her mother’s same-sex relationship was ‘too easily accepted’.
Bradford children’s social care service was ‘in turmoil’ in 2020, with a high turnover of social workers and a high volume of work affecting quality and contributing to assessments that were ‘too superficial’ and did not address repeated concerns from family members.
Ms Hudson said there are ‘fundamental fault lines’ in the system that need to be addressed.
She said: ‘We’re really clear in our report that the issues that we saw there are also issues that we’ve seen in other instances, and that we believe that the way the system is set up, and the conditions in which practitioners are having to work and make decisions, actually makes it very difficult sometimes for them to really know what was going on and to really work together effectively to protect children.’
Mr Zahawi thanked Arthur and Star’s families for their contributions to the report, and said: ‘We must waste no time learning from the findings of this review – enough is enough.
‘I will set up a new Child Protection Ministerial group, a first and immediate step in responding to these findings, before setting out a bold implementation plan later this year to bring about a fundamental shift in how we support better outcomes for our most vulnerable children and families.’
Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said Arthur and Star’s deaths ‘have left a lasting scar on the nation’.
He said: ‘It is heart-breaking that it had to take these tragedies to shine a light on the shortfalls in the child protection system.
‘Now, we must ensure the memory of Arthur and Star acts as a catalyst for the fundamental changes necessary to prevent further deaths.
‘This review lays bare an all-too-familiar story of a system struggling to cope. Social workers, police, health practitioners and teachers, however hard they are working as individuals, know they cannot do this alone.’
Janice Hawkes, independent chairwoman of the Bradford Partnership, apologised for the ‘awful circumstances’ of Star’s death, and said the partnership is ‘entirely committed to improving the safety of children across Bradford’.News