4 Oct 2013

Protecting children – what’s the point of serious case reviews?

So, Amanda Hutton has been found guilty of the manslaughter of her son, Hamzah Khan.

He was four years old when he died, though when he was found, he was so tiny he was wearing a six to nine month baby gro. And he was found two years after his death, mummified in his cot, surrounded by rubbish and vodka bottles in the family home. It was also strewn with rubbish, mouldy food, empty bottles, and dirty nappies.

The court had heard how Amanda Hutton had ignored her child as he starved to death so that she could feed her own addiction to alcohol.

A tragic, appalling case. An extreme example of neglect. What could have been done to prevent his death? Well the court also heard how the “authorities” had missed many opportunities to step in and do something.


Missed opportunities

Hamzah was a child who’d never seen a doctor. All parents will think of the red book you’re given when your baby is born, so that doctors can monitor his weight and height and make sure all his immunisations are up to date. Hamzah never arrived for any of these “vital” checks. He was disappearing from view almost from the moment he was born.

Police arrived at the family home eight months before his death – by now resembling a rubbish tip inside and out – and Amanda Hutton (above) was deemed a responsible adult to continue caring for him. Social workers missed opportunities to do something which might have protected Hamzah.

And so just moments after the verdict came through it was announced there would be a serious case review. Of course there will.

200 serious case reviews a year

Ironic that one of today’s other main stories is the publishing of a serious case review into the death of another child, Keanu Williams. He was two when he died. This time his mother had beaten him to death. Rebecca Shuttleworth is now serving a life sentence for murder. It’s one slight difference in the two stories but there are many other depressing familiarities.

The serious case review found there were “a number of significant missed opportunities” to save his life. Police, social services and health professionals had “collectively failed” to protect him. Even Shuttleworth herself, interviewed for the review in jail, expressed “surprise” that social workers had allowed her to keep him. Perhaps if she’d have mentioned to the social workers at the time that she didn’t think she was fit to care for him, they might have spotted that fact too.

By now we can all close our eyes and take a guess at what serious case reviews will say. There needs to be “more communication”, a “multi agency approach” and – I almost scream as I write – “better sharing of information.”

There are around 200 serious case reviews written every year after children have been seriously injured or killed and increasingly they seem to say the same thing. Yet little or nothing changes.

So we’ll wait for the serious case review into the death of Hamzah Khan and when it comes it can sit alongside today’s into the death of Keanu Williams, and Baby P, and Khyra Ishaq and Victoria Climbie, to name but a tragic few.

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7 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    I suppose it’d be na├»ve to expect this sort of tragedy never to happen, but you would expect the systems in place to tackle a lot more of them. I suspect that some of the problem is just pressure of work. The unseen child isn’t picked up by the system because it doesn’t present as a problem. But I think there’s also a problem about how we process negative, especially unclear negative information. My recent background has been in reviewing programme & project management. The system should mean that if the team I was working with came up with negative comments, there would be a thorough review of the programme/project, which would be halted if we gave a red mark. This system was being applied all over central government – yet programme/project failures seem to have occurred as often before this review system was introduced as after. Is there something about – if I get involved, things will get unpleasant/complicated/out of control – mixture of Pandora’s box & a can of worms? People don’t see because they can’t cope with any more hassle in their lives – so they don’t see? Or they expect someone else will deal with it? Instead of pillorying the people who made the mistakes, I think we should be looking much more closely at why they did or didn’t do what in retrospect they should’ve done at a much deeper level than finding fault.

  2. Alex Marshall says:

    Every time a crime like this comes into the bright light of publicity we have something like a serious case review. Some people are paid lots of money to go away and do the review, then all is quietly dropped as some new scandal takes its place. Nothing ever changes as a result because no-one is going to pay for it – Not labour, not Tory nor LibDem. They’ve paid it lip-service, done their bit, what more should we expect?
    That’s politics for you!

  3. Josie.simmonds says:

    What is that last comment all about, words words,words,. Social workers should be 35 plus be mothers and have common sense, which from what has been going on for the last few years has been sadly – no criminally lacking any with half a brain could see that this household was off the scale of normal, meanwhile this poor little boy with pleading in his eyes was left to this monster of a woman. Oh she lost her mother… So does everyone at some time in their lives but to use that as an excuse is beyond comprehension, what of her other children, how are they scarred, put this waste of space behind bars and forget about her. No more vodka get over it!!!

    1. Philip says:

      I assume your comments were directed at my post. The point I was trying to make is that this sort of thing keeps happening – even in very obvious cases. I was trying to understand why. Frankly, your remedy is simplistic and may prove impossible to carry out anyway. perhaps you can tell me why perfectly sensible, dedicated people in a variety of professions allowed this terrible thing to happen? And not just now, but different professionals in different cases? We can only prevent this sort of thing happening again by understanding why the problem wasn’t recognised and tackled.

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    The Audit Commission repeatedly criticised Bradford MDC’s lack of proper management of its social services in 2004 and in following years. But councillors appeared never to have read those reports because they were buried at the end of an officers’ discussion of how well the service was run and improving. In 2006, Councillors even passed a motion congratulating themselves on the “improvements” in management.
    When control changed to a new administration, they contracted out the service and were criticised by the Audit Commission for poor supervision of the service and its poor value-for-money.
    Truth is that Councillors and Council Officers are poor supervisors of social care. It’s a monopoly because its clients have no alternative and adopt become subject to insider alliances. More rigorous control is needed – especially over the very large and multi-service Met Councils.

  5. anon says:

    On the occasions that I have worked with social workers in a professional capacity, my over riding impression was that they were overly concerned with how the people concerned FEEL rather than what needs to be done.

    I wonder whether their concerns in this tragic situations were about how the perpetrators felt in their situations rather than what needed to be done to save the children?

  6. spionkop says:

    I am in my seventieth year and I have,like almost everyone, deep concerns about this issue. God knows what went on before my time, or am I naive but the breakdown of the neighbourly contact, which was a regular feature of life until the Thtcher era of, “no such thing as society” came along I believe was one of the many causes. I’me sure the statnerds will prove me wrong but we lived in roads where, for better or worse, we all knew what was going on in our street and such incidents as these would have been discussed and the relevant authorities informed.
    Also you have had the breakdown of much of the family unit and in particular long term marriages where these things would also have been clocked. I was sixteen years old in 1960 and God knows was all in favour of the permissive society, although I saw little of it, but the hedonists like Jagger and co. pushed the barriers probably too far. Since that age I have remained a committed socialist which as part of “the times they are a changing” generation meant not only sexual revolution but also the lifelong pursuit of social justice and a more peaceful and fairer world, not a gong from queenie and hiding money in tax havens and supporting the Tory heaven. We have lost so much that was good.

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