Social services shake up in wake of Star Hobson tragedy

25 January 2022, 15:26 | Updated: 25 January 2022, 15:54

Star Hobson died aged 16 months
Star Hobson died aged 16 months. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Bradford Council has lost control of its children services after coming under heavy criticism after the death of Star Hobson.

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It will be moved into a non-profit trust owned by the council but run at "arms-length" under a new chairperson and a board of directors.

The death of 16-month-old Star in Keighley, West Yorkshire, sparked a national outcry. She suffered months of physical assaults and psychological harm before being taken to hospital with "utterly catastrophic" and "unsurvivable" injuries.

The tragedy sparked serious concerns about how social services had dealt with her case.

The Department for Education said leaders at Bradford Council had "voluntarily agreed" to the changes "in recognition of the challenges it has faced since its children's services were rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2018".

The announcement comes as LBC exclusively revealed that half of social workers raised concerns about vulnerable children but no proper action was taken to protect them as a result.

Read more: Star Hobson murder: Fury over delayed social services review as answers 'desperately needed'

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: "Keeping vulnerable children safe from harm is non-negotiable. Where a council is not meeting its duty to do this, we will take action to protect children and put their needs first.

"It's clear from the recommendations made by the Commissioner in Bradford that the council needs support to improve and so I’m pleased that Bradford council have agreed to establish a new trust that will bring positive change for the council and independent oversight that drives improvements.

"This is an important moment for children and families in Bradford, and for social workers and other professionals who want to create meaningful and effective relationships with them. These professionals take highly complex decisions each day to protect children, and I am grateful for the effort that goes into each one.”

A child safeguarding review into Star’s death has also been combined with the inquiry into Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’s murder, who died aged six in 2020.

Read more: Exclusive: Scale of neglected children revealed as half of social workers fears dismissed

Arthur, from Solihull in the West Midlands, died after months of abuse when he was poisoned, starved and beaten by his stepmother, Emma Tustin, and father, Thomas Hughes.

Meanwhile, whistle blowers told LBC vulnerable children are at risk of serious harm because they are "dangerously" overstretched, with hundreds leaving the profession due to stress.

A Social Workers Union survey for LBC found 58% of social workers said their caseloads are unmanageable, with almost all - 97% - saying that the vulnerable would be better protected if caseloads were lighter.

One child protection worker in the West Midlands told LBC she has been responsible for 50 children, even though the safe cap should be between 15 and 25.

She said: "It got to the point where I felt like I was a walking zombie. I wasn’t sleeping, and I was just getting on with the long days the next day.

"I became physically unwell and had to take some time off work. I came back and things were still crazy, and I had to be signed off by my doctor.

"But the worry comes in - it's children, you want to see them. You have to find a way to manage it, but it's so difficult. I've had countless worried sleepless nights, it's never ending."

Anne Longfield, a campaigner who served as the Children's Commissioner for England, said the demand for help from social services had risen while local authorities budgets had been cut.

"What used to be a caseload 10 years ago of 15 [children] is now 50 and that means that there's just not the time, there's just not the experience, the oversight to make really important judgements that are needed to be able to help families keep children safe," she told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty.

"But also, if they are in danger, to make sure those children are protected.

"So I think the review of Arthur’s case… and Bradford, I think they will be very illustrative in what going on in many other places in the country."