What might have saved Arthur-Labinjo Hughes

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Family Handout/PA</span>
Photograph: Family Handout/PA

This is a heartbreaking case, and my heart breaks further when we learn that there were opportunities, in plain sight, to avert this tragedy (The Guardian view on Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: more lessons to learn, 6 December). So is it not time that grandparents had a legal right to protect their grandchildren? In poor little Arthur’s case, both grandmothers had raised concerns, but it seems these were not taken seriously. In dysfunctional families, many children are used as pawns in a game of vengeance or are, just as regretfully, unloved and abused, leading to tragic consequences.

Who is supporting these little ones, when social workers report back that “all’s well, it appears to be a happy household”? A six-year-old cannot say in front of his abusers that it isn’t, even when the bruises tell his side of the story. We can’t just blame social workers, because we all have a responsibility as a caring society.

Grandparents can be the next line of defence for an abused child who thinks that no one loves them. By giving grandparents a legal route, the child’s voice can be heard, and this may go a long way to averting this kind of neglect.

Our reactions of shock and horror come too late for little Arthur. Are we going to wait for another tragic case, or are we going to put measures in place now to prevent such tragedies from happening again?

God bless you, little Arthur. Your short life shouldn’t be in vain.
Patricia Davis
Scarborough, North Yorkshire

• Twenty years on from the killing of Victoria Climbié, history repeats itself with Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. We don’t need another major review. We know what to do. After the Laming report, many recommendations were taken forward, with a transformation programme for a multi-agency approach and the policy of “every child matters”. The idea was to support children and families early, before problems got out of control.

This recognised that it is not just about social work, but about schools, youth services, the police, youth offending teams, drug and alcohol support and so on.

Two key ideas were the common assessment framework and the lead professional. The framework meant that information travelled with children so it didn’t slip through gaps and families didn’t have to repeat themselves, feeding their mistrust of agencies. The lead professional was one person, from as many as 17 agencies working with a child, who would coordinate their care.

The other major focus was on culture change, sorting protocols so that agencies weren’t pulling in different directions. For instance, police were judged on arrests, youth offending teams on keeping children from being arrested. The ideology that saw the Department for Children, Schools and Families being refocused as the Department for Education binned all this. Detailed research supporting evidence-based practice was taken offline.

So let’s not pretend that we don’t know how to do better, and that this is a big shock. Where on earth is our collective memory?
Mandy Barnett
Kendal, Cumbria

• When these horrible things happen, the first thing to do is to set up a review (Report, 5 December). That gets the problem off the front pages. With luck, you’ll be able to put a chunk of blame on some teachers and social workers for not performing perfectly under stress. The truth isn’t that difficult to spot if you read the newspapers: chronic pressures on education staff; a high number of vacancies for children’s social workers; declining levels of experience and collapsing morale in the education and social care sectors. Who started the rot? George Osborne – companion of honour.
Peter Brooker
West Wickham, Kent

• I am once again appalled by the wider media’s condemnation of social workers. The two people responsible for the death were his father and his father’s girlfriend. People who abuse children are cunning and manipulative, specialists in deception. And what about the role of wider society in this child’s murder? Others witnessed the abuse he suffered. Why did they not take action? Are we now such a divided and self-centred society that the only people who are expected to act are those who are paid to care?
Jane Moorhouse
Ledbury, Herefordshire

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