3 Oct 2013

Birmingham children’s chief ‘cannot guarantee’ child safety

Birmingham children’s services missed opportunities to save three-year-old Keanu Williams in the weeks before he was beaten to death by his mother. A report describes how the child became “invisible”.

Keanu Williams was two years old when his mother killed him after inflicting major injuries on him over several days. In the last few weeks of his life, three separate indications of abuse were noted by children’s services in Birmingham. But no action was taken.

A damning report published on Thursday examined how the services failed to join up the dots.

“Different professionals in separate service areas addressed separate parts of the family system and no one focussed on the needs of and risks to all of the children in the family. Keanu had become invisible” reads the Serious Case Review by Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board.

It criticised Birmingham children’s services for “a collective failure” with professionals from doctors to nursery school workers seeing the abuse as one-off episodes with a mindset referred to ‘start again syndrome’.

No one focussed on the needs of and risks to all of the children in the family. Keanu had become invisible Report into Keanu’s death

Just days before his death, the report says Keanu was seen by staff in the nursery with a number of marks and bruises on his body, the nursery teacher described him as ‘distressed’, something she reported to his mother, but not social services.

In between Christmas and New Year Keanu was given the all-clear on a two year medical check-up.

Several months before his death he was examined in hospital for a burn to his foot caused by a radiator. The hospital accepted Keanu’s mother’s account that this was accidental.

Keanu’s mother Rebecca Shuttleworth was convicted of his murder in 2012 and sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Birmingham children's services: in crisis, waiting for the next tragedy 

"I cannot guarantee the safety of children in Birmingham tonight." That is the refreshingly honest admission from the city's head of children's services, Peter Hay.

Mr Hay has only just taken over the department. In the past five years, there have been five different directors. They have been paid huge sums of money, but none have been able to shake Ofsted's "inadequate" rating. Is it now time to admit that the city is just too big for one department?

The government has been threatening to take over the department and impose an independent trust as they have done in Doncaster. It is telling that not many people here think that would necessarily be a bad thing.

Birmingham has a population of 1.1million. It has areas of high unemployment and deprivation. Social workers have high caseloads and extremely tough cases.

I spoke to one manager of a child protection team who told me "We all know it's not going to be if another tragedy happens, but when."

By Channel 4 News Home Affairs correspondent Darshna Soni

Eight months before Keanu’s death the nursery described him as “a happy, social little child who plays nicely in the room and enjoys nursery rhymes, joining in with actions and vocalisations. Keanu has a good understanding of routine instructions in the room and participates well in all free play/structured activities. Keanu is meeting all his developmental milestones and thriving well at nursery.”

Although Keanu’s death could not be predicted, the report concludes, the start of the behaviour that went onto to kill the child was not spotted when it should have been.

Jane Held, the Independent Chair of the Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board, apologised for the failures:

“We apologise unequivocally for what were totally unacceptable and unnecessary failures both collectively and individually in every organisation which had contact with Keanu. We fully accept all the findings of the Serious Case Review and the recommendations made.”

Sadly the case of Keanu Williams is not a one-off.

Just last month the serious case review into the death of Daniel Pelka in Coventry was published. In a chilling echo of the findings relating to Keanu’s death it found that four-year-old Daniel had also become “invisible” – as schools and social services in the city failed to catch the signs of abuse right up until his starvation and death at the hands of his mother and step-father in March 2012.