CHURCH leaders have pledged support for the government inquiry into the deaths of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, murdered by his stepmother (Comment, 10 December), and 16-month-old Star Hobson, beaten to death by her mother’s girlfriend.
In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister for Children and Families, 21 Christian agencies and denominations involved in safeguarding and child welfare describe the murders as “the latest in a catalogue of high-profile deaths of children in living memory, including Victoria Climbié (2000), Peter Connolly (2008), Kristy Bamu (2010), and Daniel Pelka (2012)”.
Signatories include the interim director of safeguarding for the Church of England, Zena Walker; the lead safeguarding bishop for the Roman Catholic Church, the Rt Revd Paul Mason; and a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group in Safeguarding in Faith Communities, Janet Daby MP.
They offer their co-operation, expertise, and full support. “As Church and civil society groups, we work with communities across the United Kingdom, including in the most deprived areas with the most vulnerable, marginalised and at risk people in our society,” they say.
“The Church in all its expressions plays a vital role in the lives of children and is actively engaged in promoting child, family and community welfare. We see and engage with children within the context of their families like no other network or organisation. This is a significant opportunity that brings with it a high degree of responsibility.
“We recognise that on occasions we too have failed to protect children, with devastating consequences. We are therefore both obligated and motivated to do better, and offer to share our own experience, expertise and insights with honesty and humility.
“We believe it is our Christian duty to help ensure that children, particularly those who are or may be vulnerable, are heard, defended and protected from harm. We offer to listen to, and speak up for, all children, regardless of faith and family background, and play our part in finding positive solutions and keeping them safe.”
Dr Krish Kandiah, a Christian social entrepreneur, and Justin Humphreys, the chief executive of the independent safeguarding charity Thirtyone:eight, who co-ordinated the letter, said that they were encouraged by the strength of unity and support behind it.
“We wanted the Government to know that we as the Church are already heavily involved in the lives of vulnerable children across the country, and have both a unique insight to offer the review and a moral responsibility to step up to the task of ensuring every child is kept safe from harm,” Dr Kandiah said.
Mr Humphreys said, “There are fewer tragedies that occur in society that are more painful to contemplate than the death of a child.
“When a child’s life is ended by the selfish and cruel acts of another person, we ought to be troubled to the core. . . Standing together and reaching out into our communities to help create safer places, we can make a difference — maybe just for one child or maybe for many. This is what we are called to do.”
Practitioners have warned that the inquiry must consider the Covid context of social-work practice. Writing on the Community Care website, Dr Kellie Thompson, a senior lecturer in social work at Liverpool Hope University, said that she expected, albeit speculatively, that the “missed opportunities” that would be identified “will have already been cited many times before — one I would expect to see being information-sharing between social workers and other professionals.
“I fear easy comparisons being made between the recent horrific cases and previous high-profile inquiries, such as those into the deaths of Victoria Climbié and Peter Connolly. Yet the contexts of practice between cases are far from the same.
“Already we see the beginnings of the vilification of social workers, castigated as not doing their job ‘properly’, without fully acknowledging the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on child protection practice and, consequently, on the decisions made from information received.
“Of course, there are questions that must be answered — but the lambasting of social workers and search for blame will not prove fruitful in the long term.”
Last Friday, the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, said that the sentences imposed on Labinjo-Hughes’s stepmother, Emma Tustin, and his father, Thomas Hughes, were too lenient, and she had referred them to the Court of Appeal. Ms Tustin was sentenced to at least 29 years for murder and Mr Hughes to 21 years for manslaughter.