Lockdown gave Finley Boden’s parents cover – but safeguarding failures ran deep | Child protection

When Finley Boden was returned to the care of his parents, only to be murdered by them weeks later, England was days into its second national lockdown.

A safeguarding report into Finley’s care makes clear the backdrop of restrictions brought in during the Covid pandemic hindered the ability of authorities to protect him.

Key court hearings to decide his future were held over the phone, his appointed guardian was shielding and unable to attend face-to-face meetings, and his parents used the pretence of Covid infection to prevent social workers from coming into their home.

As face-to-face contact with families reduced, “self-reporting” by parents increased, the report stated.

“Workers had to rely on what they were being told by Finley’s parents, which normally they wouldn’t do, and don’t do now,” said Steve Atkinson, the independent chair and scrutineer of Derby and Derbyshire safeguarding children partnership, which carried out the review. “The access that social workers had was restricted.

“Finley wasn’t the only one in the country who suffered this kind of tragic consequence, sadly.”

Other children to be killed by abuse across other local authorities during 2020 included 16-month-old Star Hobson, 10-month-old Jacob Crouch and six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, whose father and stepmother were partly able to cover their abuse as the boy was out of school during lockdown.

Finley Boden. Photograph: Derbyshire police/PA

The number of serious incident notifications in England, involving death or serious harm to a child where abuse or neglect is known or suspected, increased by 19% in 2020-21, with the biggest increase in the first half of the year when the country was in lockdown.

But Covid restrictions could not be used as an excuse to explain everything that went wrong in Finley’s case, said Atkinson, adding: “It may have given his parents cover but there are clearly things that should have been done better.”

There were a number of failures by agencies entrusted with Finley’s care and opportunities were missed that might have altered the course of events and ultimately saved his life. In the days after being returned to his parents’ care, a social worker and health visitor noticed a bruise on Finley’s head, but this was not followed up, and his parents’ explanation was not challenged.

On another occasion, police attended the property after a 999 call from Finley’s mother, and were told children lived there, but this incident was not passed on to social services.

A number of issues detailed in Finley’s safeguarding report have cropped up in similar cases over the years, including inexperienced social workers being allocated to challenging cases without adequate support and supervision, said Chris Barnes, a family lawyer.

In Finley’s case, one social worker was only recently qualified and the other had no previous experience of statutory social work with children, the report stated.

There has also been concern over the decision of the family court to return Finley to the care of his parents. There was, however, little opposition to this plan of action either from children’s services or Finley’s guardian – even though the court shortened the transition period recommended by social workers.

“I think the reality is that in cases where there have been failings that lead to this sort of outcome, it ends up being a complex interrelationship of problems in the safeguarding process,” said Barnes. “It is rarely that there’s a single thing that’s gone wrong.

“Here, there were a wide range of agencies involved with the family, and it appears that information was often not properly shared and scrutinised.”

Derbyshire county council acknowledged that, while the pandemic created “unique” pressures, “more could have been done to ‘work’ the case and to formulate Finley’s final care plan with partners”.

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