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The media have reported today about the devastating death of 2-year-old Bronson Battersby in Lincolnshire who was found dead this week alongside his father Kenneth, also dead. 

Upon reading the headlines, those of us who have been working for some time in safeguarding might sadly make the grim assumption that this was a case of murder-suicide. However, just as upsetting is the circumstances in which Bronson and his father passed away. Kenneth aged 60 appears to have suffered a heart attack while Bronson appears to have died of starvation, as there was nobody else to look after him following his father’s death. 

A rapid review by Lincolnshire County Council is underway.

Occasionally, we read of those cases of people’s remains being found months after their death. These are always such shocking cases that can lead us to ask questions as to how somebody can disappear with no-one noticing their absence. Often it is a caring neighbour in a shared building or street who starts to wonder why they have not seen their neighbour and reports this to the police. However unusual these cases involving adults are, it feels incomprehensible that a child could die of starvation because nobody was aware of them being home alone. 

It is human nature and a form of self-preservation that we can seek to find blame and reason behind terrible things happening. The rapid review may well offer more information but from what we know so far, this may simply be a desperately sad case where nobody was to blame.

Nevertheless, when we step into our roles as safeguarding professionals, we must ask the questions of how each and every child death could be prevented.

Firstly, we must look at the services available to a two-year-old and their parents. 

My thoughts return to my own children, currently aged 6 and 4 years old, respectively. I remember feeling shocked when I received through the post, the paperwork for my youngest child’s 2-year development check. I phoned the health visitor and they cheerfully advised that their policy had changed, and they now asked parents to complete their own checks and post them back. 

I compared this with the development check for my elder child, which was face-to-face, took over an hour and enabled me to ask questions and seek advice. The health visitor, with all their years of training and experience was also able to assess my child’s development face-to-face. Not only that, but had there been any, they would have been able to pick up on small signs and indicators of any concerns – including of course, abuse and neglect.

It is a great shame that the Covid-19 pandemic meant that many professionals were unable to conduct face to face appointments. When we think of extreme examples, we might remember Arthur Labinjo-Hughes whose horrific abuse, neglect – and subsequent death – was impacted by the arrangements hastily made at the beginning of the pandemic. (‘Professionals interviewed for our review have highlighted the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on their working arrangements.’ Child Protection in England – May 2022 (publishing.service.gov.uk) 

You can read our earlier blogpost about the case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes earlier in the blog on this website.

However, many safeguarding professionals we have spoken with, particularly from education settings, have complained of the continuation of reduced home visits and face-to-face child protection meetings for many months following the end of lockdown. It would be interesting to consider what the reasoning was behind these arrangements continuing for so long.

What might have saved Bronson? We don’t yet know and hopefully the rapid review will get to the bottom of this. One consideration is the importance of face-to-face meetings by professionals. This requires increased funding and support from the government but health visitors conducting home visits for children is of vital importance.

Additionally, we do not know how socially isolated Kenneth and Bronson were. Perhaps they had supportive family, friends and community – or perhaps not. In our culture within the UK, we are sometimes criticised by other countries around the world for living isolated and independent lives. Even if they had a wide and warm social circle, it is still not normal for many of us in the UK to simply drop by one another’s houses each day. 

Charities such as ‘Safer Families’ are set up to ensure that all people, including those who are in a vulnerable position, have a sense of belonging within community. They match up families and individuals with volunteers who can support them practically and emotionally. It is worth taking a look to see whether they work in your area: 

Support. Hope. Belonging. – Safe Families

Another solution may be for the government to extend their childcare offer to enable more two-year-olds to have free nursery provision. We know that the UK has some of the most expensive childcare in the world and yet with increased funding, more two-year-olds would be able to access the education and stimulation – as well as monitoring and support for families – that nurseries provide so well.

When we consider our own roles working with children and young people, we can be reminded of the recent changes to Working Together to Safeguard Children (Working together to safeguard children 2023: statutory guidance (publishing.service.gov.uk) which include an increased emphasis on the importance of engaging families. While we cannot possibly – and should not – conduct home visits for all of the children we work with, getting to know our families and forming a trusting professional rapport means we are more likely to spot when something is out of the ordinary.

To conclude, this is a devastatingly sad situation, and we offer our deepest condolences to the family of Kenneth and Bronson. We hope that the review is conducted swiftly and thoroughly and can look to find recommendations to ensure this does not happen again.