Serious harms in care report to remain unpublished

Posted: 10th August 2023

The national statutory body for child safeguarding has refused to publish a report which analysed 48 separate incidents where children in care died or were seriously harmed (see its headline findings below).

Thirty organisations, including Article 39, wrote to the Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel at the end of April, requesting that the report be made public to help inform legal and policy developments around the care and protection of children in care. (Read the joint letter here).

At the end of May, days after it published its national reviews into the deaths of two young children, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson, the statutory child safeguarding body replied to the request from 30 organisations, stating that it would not publish its analysis since “the primary purpose was to the inform the Panel’s overall knowledge of incidents – the learning from which has been shared – and the work was not carried out with publication in mind”. (Read the Panel’s response here).

The response from the Panel’s chair further states that “a number of the incidents” have already been reviewed locally with the findings of these reviews either in the public domain, or planned to be published.

However, there is no published list of these local reviews. In October last year, the Children’s Minister Will Quince refused to give the names of the local authorities responsible for the 22 children in care aged 16 and 17 who died while living in unregulated accommodation between 2018 and 2020. In a written answer to Labour MP Sarah Champion, the Minister said: “Due to the small numbers involved this figure cannot be broken down by individual age or local authority or into separate years to protect confidentiality”.

It was later revealed that 29 children in care aged 16 and 17 died while living in unregulated accommodation over the past five years. Official data recently published shows there were 17 incidents in 2021/22 when children in care living in unregulated accommodation either died or suffered serious harm.

The child safeguarding body’s annual report for 2020, published in May 2021, said that its analysis of the 48 incidents found teenagers were entering care after many years of parental abuse and neglect, and indicated the care system was ill-equipped to care for and protect them, with “high levels of placement breakdown” and unregulated properties being used as emergency accommodation.

The timing of this publication came shortly after the Department for Education introduced secondary legislation, in February 2021, that prohibited the use of unregulated accommodation for children in care aged 15 and under from September 2021, but left children aged 16 and 17 without this same protection. Article 39 is legally challenging the secondary legislation, arguing that it irrationally discriminates against children in care aged 16 and 17.

Separately, Article 39 has lodged a complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office to obtain the report from the Department for Education, which has confirmed in its freedom of information refusal that the safeguarding panel sent the document to the Secretary of State for Education after Article 39 launched legal action. The implication is that the analysis of the 48 incidents were not shared with ministers or civil servants when they were deciding government policy on the use of unregulated accommodation.

Article 39’s Director, Carolyne Willow, said:

“It cannot be right that the national child safeguarding body and the Department for Education are sitting on a report which analyses the deaths and serious harms suffered by children in the care of the state when government policy quite rightly expects transparency and collective learning when highly vulnerable children are not protected within their families. All children have the same right to protection, and it’s simply unacceptable that there is public and parliamentary scrutiny when children die at the hands of their parents and carers in the community, but to then have secrecy when it comes to children in care.

“The child safeguarding panel’s analysis of what went wrong for children in care should have informed government policy on the use of unregulated accommodation, and it should be contributing now to other urgent changes in the care system so that every child, whether they are 6 or 16 years old, feels safe and secure. The whole purpose of the panel is to facilitate learning and improvements in child protection across the country, irrespective of how and where children came to be seriously harmed.” 

Terry Galloway, who runs accommodation for adults who were in care as children and was himself in care as a child, added:

“I was taken into care and abused, my sister too, for her it was too much, she is now dead, murdered because she was vulnerable. If we don’t die in care, then we die later, much earlier than others. How can social care and the courts take us from our parents, then allow things to be done to us that that they warned our parents would do?

“I’m older now and fighting for system change with others. I’ve a right to be angry, but that gets us nowhere, we must work together. I wish the panel had shared the information so that we can put things right, together.”

Rebekah Pierre, a care experienced social worker, said:

“Across the sector, there is a disturbing pattern emerging. The organisations who should be unequivocal in their role to protect all children (not just those below the arbitrary age of 16) are failing to do so. This information belongs in the public domain if social workers, and all those who care for children, are to prevent further harms. What possible justification can there be to hold back this potentially life-saving information? 

“My concern comes not just from my experience as a social worker, but also my lived experience of unregulated accommodation – it was, in the words of the former Children’s Commissioner, ‘unfit for human habitation’, and I will carry the physical and emotional scars of this time forever. Children in these placements are highly vulnerable, disproportionately Black & minoritised, and resourceless – surely these are the very children for whom we should be vociferously protecting, and that starts with laying bare all that must change.”

Carole Littlechild, Chair of Nagalro – the professional association for family court advisers, children’s guardians and independent social workers – added:

“It is an extraordinary indictment on current policy that it should be regarded in any way acceptable for the national statutory body for child safeguarding to keep back vital information about children of 16 and 17 who die or who are seriously harmed whilst in local authority care.  To withhold such crucial detail when policy about unregulated placements for that age group of children was being developed betrays both those children and future children who should be able to rely on state protection and safe care.” 

Children aged 16 and 17 who are in care and live in unregulated accommodation do not receive day-to-day care, and there is no consistent adult supervision. Children must take full responsibility for their finances and their health, including hospital appointments. The Competition and Markets Authority has reported that this type of accommodation reaps the highest rate of profit within the children’s care system, with the 15 largest providers making on average £330 per week profit (35.5%) per child. The rate of profit for the 15 largest companies running children’s homes is 22.6% (£910) per child each week, and for fostering it is 19.4% (£159).

Source: Serious harms in care report to remain unpublished – Article 39

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