This blog post will not go into detail about the distressing history of five year old Logan Mwangi, with which we are all too familiar through media coverage of the trial of the three people who were responsible for his death. An impression had been given at that time that possibly Logan had been let down by the family courts. It is now possible to learn a little about the court involvement – or lack of involvement.
An Extended Child Practice Review was published last week by Cwm Taf Morgannwg Safeguarding Board. Such a Review is commissioned if abuse of a child is suspected and the child dies, similar to a Serious Case Review in England. There are two important matters mentioned in the Review that are relevant to family law, amongst those more directly about child protection practice and systemic problems in the various agencies.
Exclusion of a father with parental responsibility
First, there had been some publicity about Logan’s father (who lived in England) saying he had not been made aware that Logan was subject to child protection procedures, until he was notified of his son’s death. The Review confirms that he held parental responsibility and states that he was having contact with him, until 2019. It appears that this contact was informally arranged via Logan’s maternal grandmother in Wales, rather than under a court order. However, Logan’s mother fell out with the grandmother, who then wasn’t able to see Logan anymore herself and Logan’s father consequently didn’t see him either.
One of the points made in the Review is:
Children’s Services did not notify Child T’s father of their involvement with him. There was a lack of understanding from professionals of their duty to inform any person who holds parental responsibility for a child, of child protection concerns. (p 16)
There is no proper record of decision making about helping Logan regain contact with either his grandmother (on his mother’s side) or with his father’s side of the family. All that the Reviews says is that
The minutes of the Review Child Protection Conference document that consideration had been given to contacting Child T’s father. The minutes note the following rationale that ‘given the domestic violence and there having been no contact with Child T for a very long time the decision was made not to make contact with him’. This Review has seen no information that evidences Child T’s father was a perpetrator of domestic abuse against Child T’s mother. However, if there are concerns in respect of a person with parental responsibility this should be risk managed to support their engagement, not be a rationale for not seeking to engage them (p 11)
Lack of investigation into risks posed by family dynamics
Although there was nothing to suggest abuse on the part of Logan’s father, there was plenty of evidence that the man (‘Adult A’) who was moving in with his mother had a criminal record, including violence, and there were observations by social workers of his coercive and controlling behaviour toward both the women he had relationships with at the time (Logan’s mother and ‘Adult B’ who is not named but we know to be the mother of the 14 year old boy who was convicted along with Logan’s mother and Adult A). The 14 year old had been subject to interim care orders since January 2021 but in July 2021, this was discharged by the family court that made a child arrangements order (that he would live with Adult A, his step father) and a supervision order. Adult A was “awarded custody”, as the media later described it. Adult A was at that time living with Logan’s mother, Logan, and a younger half sibling. These orders were made just five days before Logan was killed.
Despite the evidence about the step father’s behaviour toward women and children, and his ‘extensive’ criminal record, the Review suggests that this CAO was rushed through the family court. Another point made in the Review is:
Judicial process taking priority over assessment timescales. Children’s Services, CAFCASS practitioners and managers who participated in the Review shared that it is not uncommon for the Court to direct those assessments be undertaken within condensed timescales, if a family a member comes forward to care for a child within care proceedings. This was an extended family unit with complex dynamics. Child T’s mother and Adult A had a number of changes in position in respect of them caring for Child Y. In order to robustly understand the family dynamics, practitioners need to have sufficient time to undertake assessment sessions, opportunity to undertake observational sessions and sufficient time to reflect and analyse the information gathered. The Panel were concerned that this was a multi-faceted assessment that was given four weeks for completion. (p 13)
and the Review goes on to recommend:
That the President of The Family Division considers the imposition of a twelve-week minimum for any Social Work assessment within Public Law Proceedings. With clear guidance on any circumstances where there might be a case specific variation.(p 20)
There are five national recommendations made by the Review:
1. The Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board to include specific guidance to child protection practitioners about their duty to inform all parents with parental responsibility of child protection assessments and processes.
2. That Welsh Government considers commissioning an all-Wales review of Child Protection Conferences.
3. That Welsh Government considers commissioning a campaign to raise public awareness on how to report their safeguarding concerns.
4. That Welsh Government considers a full review of Health, Social Care, Education and Police recording, information gathering and sharing systems.
5. That the President of The Family Court Division considers the setting of a twelve-week minimum period for any Social Work assessment within Public Law Proceedings as a standard.
The Review is mainly concerned with the failings of the health authorities and local authorities. However there are also implications for the family justice system. In a better functioning court system, Logan’s grandmother and his paternal family could have been advised to apply for child arrangements orders to keep in touch with him. Second, the court could have required a full assessment of the risks posed to two small children by placing the very disturbed older child with his step father. It will be interesting to see how the President of the Family Division responds to this call.
Image: Cardiff Crown Court, where the murder trial was held. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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