The chief executive of Bradford Council, Kersten England, has said the murder of Star Hobson highlights “one of the many problems facing children’s social care nationally” and has cleverly downplayed the “unique” failings of the district’s child services, following the release of the national review into her and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes deaths earlier today.
In 2018, Bradford Council’s children’s services was rated inadequate by Ofsted and an independent commissioner was brought in by the Government following the death of Star and the Council not making “swift enough changes”.
On 22 September 2020, 16-month-old Star Hobson from Keighley, who was described as being an “inquisitive toddler” who loved to dance and listen to music, died after sustaining multiple injuries inflicted by her mum’s partner, Savannah Brockhill.
Known to children’s services, Star’s mum, Frankie Smith, was visited by social services five times before her case was closed just a week before Star passed away.
The case was closed on the basis that concerns of abuse raised by Star’s grandfather had been “unsubstantiated and the referral was malicious in intent.”
Last year, Ms Brockhill was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years. Star’s mum was initially given an eight-year sentence, but it was extended to 12 years after a successful unduly lenient sentence referral review.
The review carried out by The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, chaired by Annie Hudson, says there were “undoubtedly multiple fault lines in multi and individual agency practice arrangements in Bradford in 2020, some of which are unique to the area.”
The review found that Star’s wider family members were not listened to, that assessments within Bradford’s children’s social care were not fit for purpose and that responses to the referrals with concerns about Star were significantly weakened by the lack of formal multi-agency child protection processes.
The review also found that in 2020, Bradford child’s services was a service in turmoil, where professionals were working in conditions that made high-quality decisions exceedingly difficult to achieve.
The review also said that the volume of work and significant problems with workforce stability and experience, at every level, meant assessments and work with Star and her family were too superficial and did not rigorously address the repeated concerns expressed by different family members, with the problems compounded by weaknesses in multi-agency working.
The report provided several local recommendations to improve the state of Bradford’s child services including implementing the national recommendations made in the report and to review, develop, commission and resource a comprehensive, early help offer which can be accessed before/during and after the completion of any child and family assessment by children’s social care, among others.
Mrs England, alongside the leader of Bradford Council, Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe (Lab), apologised for Bradford’s children’s services “missing the signs” of Star’s abuse but that her murder is indictive of the problems children’s social care face nationally.
Mrs England said she “accepts the report’s findings” and wants to assure everyone that firm action has been taking to “help prevent a tragic case like this from happening again.”
In her statement released this morning, Mrs England apologised that “opportunities to protect her from such cruel and despicable abuse were missed.”
Kersten England, chief executive of Bradford Council, said: “The murder of Star Hobson was horrific and distressing and I am deeply sorry that opportunities to protect her from such cruel and despicable abuse were missed.
“Our thoughts are, and always will be, with those who loved her.
“The expert report is tough to read but it is absolutely essential that we understand in detail what went wrong. I accept its findings and assure everyone that firm action has been and will continue to be taken to strengthen our child protection processes and help prevent a tragic case like this from happening again.
“As the report makes clear, the cases of Star and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes highlight many of the problems facing children’s social care nationally. I know colleagues up and down the country will be looking at the report to ensure all the lessons are learned from these heart-breaking losses of young lives.”
Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said: “The murders of Star and Arthur were truly horrific and should not have happened. On behalf of the Council, I want to say sorry to Star’s family that signs were missed and that we did not take the action we should have. Rightly both cases have now been scrutinised at a national level and the learning and recommendations will therefore have, not just local, but national significance.
“The review is very clear about the national change needed to strengthen how local councils, the police, education, and health services work to keep children safe. In Bradford, we are fully committed to implementing the findings of this review so that those who work to protect our children can do so in the most effective way possible.”
Since 2018, Bradford’s children services have had no less than four directors, with Marc Douglas leaving the post a few weeks before Ms Brockhill and Ms Smith were sentenced. It was announced last October that Marium Haque would take over as the strategic director of children’s services.
She said: “The murder of Star was devastating for our community. It is something that no one involved in protecting children ever wants to happen. The National Panel review sets out some very clear guidance on what we need to do across organisations to strengthen our child protection procedures.
“The review explores issues and identifies areas that we have already taken action on. But we will continue to work closely with our staff, local organisations like the police and health, and the National Panel to make sure that everyone involved in keeping children safe fully understands the recommendations and where we still have more work to do to improve.
“We are working alongside the Government appointed Children’s Commissioner to make significant changes in how social workers work in our district. We are in the process of setting up a Children’s Trust which will deliver further changes we need to make at pace to make sure children in our district are safer.”
In January, it was announced that Bradford’s children’s social care will be placed into a not-for-profit trust that will operate at “arms-length” from the Council to “drive rapid improvements” under the control of a new independent hair and board of directors. Yesterday, Eileen Milner, the former boss of the Quality Care Commission, will head the trust.