13:47, June 09 29 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-09 13:47:06
The Guardian view on failures to protect children: the buck stops where?

Parents are not the only ones responsible for their children. Our social responsibility is at its greatest when parents are unable to protect their families – or, worse, are the threat. The murders of two young children in Northamptonshire, within five months of each other, is a brutal reminder that those duties are not always met. In both cases, according to the serious case reviews, children’s social care and services including health and police failed to act on risks that were known to them.

The primary question is what is being done to ensure that such catastrophic errors are not repeated. A related one is who will take responsibility for what happened in December 2017, when two-year-old Dylan Tiffin-Brown died of heart failure after an assault by his father, and April 2018, when one-year-old Evelyn-Rose Muggleton was viciously beaten by her mother’s partner. Both children’s killers have been convicted of murder and are serving life sentences.

Dylan and Evelyn-Rose were left in harm’s way despite evidence that these men were unsuited to care for them. Raphael Kennedy was a violent drug dealer whose other children were not allowed unsupervised contact with him. He met Dylan for the first time 10 weeks before he killed him, and was known to have left the boy alone and without supervision before. Ryan Coleman, who was 21 when convicted, had a history of violence and drug dealing when he moved in with Evelyn-Rose’s mother, whose previous partner – her five children’s father – had been violent towards her and was in prison.

It is clear from the review of Evelyn-Rose’s death that at least one manager at Northamptonshire’s children’s services made mistakes. But the council will not say whether managers as well as frontline workers are among the staff dismissed because of these cases. Meanwhile, its Conservative leader, Matthew Golby, who was cabinet member for children’s services between 2016 and 2018, has defied calls to resign. His apology concluded by stating his belief that he should stay on to put right mistakes made in these cases. The director of children’s services at the time, Lesley Hagger, has moved jobs.

Northamptonshire council remains in desperate straits after almost going bankrupt, with clear evidence of uniquely poor management over a long period. Creating some stability now is important, while the backdrop against which these two murders occurred is a policy failure not limited to one council. More children are being taken into care in England, at vast expense, while other key services – schools, early intervention and youth and addiction work – are being slashed due to cuts imposed by central government. Ministers must recognise the destructive spiral they have created and choose prevention over crisis management.

The reports criticise social workers’ overly optimistic assessments. Like past reviews of similar cases, they call for enhanced coordination across the network. But the multiple failures of judgment and communication must not obscure the question of where the buck stops. The police must explain their actions. Mr Golby needs to explain why, according to Ofsted, children’s services “significantly declined” when he was in charge. Scapegoating is not in the public interest, particularly when staff shortages are part of the problem. But neither is it tenable to draw a veil of secrecy over the repercussions of dysfunction across an entire council when this is found to have contributed to the circumstances in which two children were murdered. Northamptonshire’s bosses must account for their actions.