When children are killed or seriously harmed from abuse or neglect, there is pressure to ‘learn the lessons’ to prevent similar events. England has a long-established system of locally-based multi-agency reviews for this, but the recurrence of tragedies and repetitive findings raise questions about its effectiveness. Reflecting and building on our research into reviews completed between 2017 and 2021, we analyse the complexity that routine criticisms of inter-agency working disguise, and argue that reviews are shaped by their multiple, competing functions. The stated purpose is to improve practice. Within this are other overt but ambiguous goals: establishing what happened, accountability, reassurance and commemoration. Then there are covert functions: to dissipate public outrage, deflect attention from underlying causes, and distort understandings of the work by making it seem straightforward. Reviews would benefit from paying more attention to the dynamics of frontline practice and the local actions to implement the lessons.
- child protection; local child safeguarding practice reviews (LCSPRs); serious case reviews (SCRs)