Reports on Serious Case Review highlight the importance of always looking at the facts behind the headlines
What’s been said?
On 29 January 2020 The Guardian published an article about a Serious Case Review [SCR] into the case of a severely abused child in Northamptonshire. The article is headlined “Child cruelty case triggers call for home schooling review,” with the first paragraph leading on how “child protection experts have called for a national review of home schooling” following the case.
The report continues that the boy concerned, referred to in the SCR as Child Ab, “endured four years of cruelty” and was “taken into care in 2016.” The child’s mother and stepfather were convicted of five counts of child cruelty last May.
Whilst the Guardian headline suggests home education is the major issue at play in this case, it should be noted that it also states the SCR “found significant failures by social workers and NHS staff who… had missed early chances to remove the boy,” and that “by not instigating child protection procedures when previous referrals had been made to children’s services Child Ab was left to endure continuing neglect and serious abuse for years.” [Emphasis added]
It is also important to note that “the case is the third high profile serious case review in recent years involving Northamptonshire county council children’s services.” In 2013 Ofsted inspectors rated the County Council’s Children’s Services “inadequate;” in 2016 the rating was upgraded to “requires improvement;” but by October 2018 a letter from Ofsted to the Northamptonshire County Council’s Chief Executive stated that standards had “significantly declined in the last two years,” and that “when children in Northamptonshire are referred to children’s social care, they are not consistently or effectively assessed, supported or protected.”
Why does it matter?
Whilst there is much that could be commented on, there are several important points to note in the SCR (emphases added):
- Child Ab’s behaviour was indicative of safeguarding concerns. The child’s demeanour changed at school (1.6)
- Seeing the cause of Child Ab’s behaviour to be the child’s responsibility (2.1.5)
- When the decision was made that Child in Need plans were appropriate, the case was only open for a matter of three months… These decisions resulted in Child Ab not being seen by any professional for over a year. In effect, child Ab was hidden from view and the abuse perpetrated by Stepfather… continued (2.3.3)
- Most agencies recorded Stepfather as ‘father’ of Child Ab and all the siblings, including those for whom he was not the biological father (2.2.1)
- The reality was that Stepfather was controlling the engagement of professionals with Child Ab and siblings, and possibly with Mother (2.5.3)
- Child Ab waited considerable time for an appointment to be assessed by CAMHS, only for Mother and Stepfather to fail to take the child to the appointment. They then failed to… contact the service when asked to re-book an appointment (2.7.1)
- The perseverance of the School Nurse in attempting to bring her concerns about Child Ab to the attention of fellow professionals is to be commended. Unfortunately, her referral to the MASH did not result in child protection procedures being instigated and it would be another year before action was taken to safeguard Child Ab and siblings (2.8.2)
According to the SCR, Child Ab was “out of school, effectively out of sight for a period of 14 months” (2.6.1, emphasis added). Yet at the time of sentencing, it was stated that “the trial related to events between 2012 and 2016” – a four year period. It should also be noted that, although “Child Ab was never subject to home education, as Stepfather failed to submit the application forms” (2.6.1), the “Stepfather made professionals aware of his intention to electively Home Educate Child Ab” (2.3.3 emphasis added).
This poor boy was not the “hidden child” that has been claimed: he was at school for nearly 3 years during the abuse, where his “behaviour was indicative of safeguarding concerns” (SCR 1.6); the school nurse raised welfare concerns which were not heeded; other health professionals failed to follow up missed appointments; Child Ab was subject to a Child in Need plan before he was home educated. He was far from hidden from the authorities.
Instead, as in the cases of Khyra Ishaq and Dylan Seabridge, home education is being used as a scapegoat to both cover up a catastrophic failure in a Local Authority Children’s Services department, and to further a political agenda. This was a child the LA were informed about but, instead of acting on welfare concerns, ill-informed LA staff hid behind education law.
What can I do?
Read the SCR – it is not lengthy – and be proactive in explaining the full facts to those who home in on the HE aspect of the case.
Be alert to, and ready to counter, instances when home education is blamed when it is LA Children’s Services that have failed to act.
Educate yourself on the political agenda that is being forwarded through SCR Recommendation 2.