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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