Serious child safeguarding concerns remain, Education Secretary told

Council officials in Bradford and Solihull where vulnerable children were murdered gave ‘inadequate’ reassurances, a cross-party group of MPs said.

26 September 2022

The council leadership in two areas where vulnerable children were murdered need to be held to account about their failings, ministers have been told.

A cross-party group of MPs has written to Education Secretary Kit Malthouse to tell him they are “extremely concerned” about whether the chief executives of Solihull and Bradford Councils are up to the job of improving children’s services following the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

The Education Select Committee’s letter comes after it spoke to the senior officials from both councils and said it found their reassurances “inadequate”.

Coronavirus – Thu Feb 25, 2021
Chair the Education Select Committee, Conservative MP Robert Halfon (Parliament TV handout/House of Commons)

The Committee added it was “extremely concerned as to whether the current leadership of Solihull and Bradford Councils will be able to safeguard other vulnerable children”.

Six-year-old Arthur from Solihull in the West Midlands, was poisoned, starved and beaten.

His stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, was jailed for life in December last year with a minimum term of 29 years for murder. His father, Thomas Hughes, 29, is serving 24 years for manslaughter, a sentence increase on appeal.

Sixteen-month-old Star was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend, Savannah Brockhill, at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in September 2020.

Star’s mother, Frankie Smith, 20, was found guilty of causing or allowing the youngster’s death.

The committee’s letter to Mr Malthouse questioned whether Solihull chief executive Nick Page and Bradford chief executive Kersten England were “best placed to continue to lead and oversee the state of Children’s Services in both authorities”.

The group of MPs called on ministers to make sure that commitments made by both council bosses to improve services over 12 months were followed through.

Otherwise, it warned that the Department for Education and Ofsted should consider “whether both chief executives are capable of continuing to try and establish such significant change”.

Conservative chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, said: “The deaths of Arthur and Star were harrowing. Both Bradford and Solihull Councils’ children’s services were in dire need of improvements even before the lockdowns. Action was not taken, and two children lost their lives.

“The new Education Secretary must prioritise the vulnerable children currently being failed by these authorities and take the steps to ensure targets for improvement are being met, and fast.

“There must be accountability, and it is essential that the leaders responsible for the most at-risk children in our society are up to the job.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have already intervened extensively in both Solihull and Bradford’s services to address weaknesses, appointing independent advisers in both cases and handing control of services in Bradford to a Trust.

“We cannot be complacent when it comes to protecting vulnerable children and will not hesitate to take additional steps to drive swift improvement. We are working on a bold plan for wide scale reform in children’s social care which we will publish later this year.”

A Bradford Council spokesperson said that the local authority was “working well” with the Department for Education and was making “good progress” in establishing the Bradford Children and Families Trust.

The spokesperson said: “It is a matter of public record that we acknowledge and fully accept the findings of the National Panel report which was led by Annie Hudson into the horrific deaths of Star and Arthur.

“As a council we are clear about the actions we need to take to improve services and make sure that children in our district are safe.

“We are implementing these at pace. We cooperated fully with the Department for Education’s Commissioner-led review which was a thorough appraisal of the challenges that have faced children’s services. The most recent Ofsted monitoring visit, the result of which was published this month, has also highlighted recent improvements in the delivery of services.”

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