Friday, 14 November 2008

The Abuse and Death of Baby P

Haringey is in the national news after a second infant in eight years was abused and died at the hands of their carers. Victoria Climbe was murdered by her great aunt and the woman’s partner in the borough in 2000. The case of Baby P is perhaps even more shocking, given that he was known to Haringey’s Children’s Services, the police and health workers. The child was visited sixty times in the eight months leading up to his death, which resulted from extensive injuries including eight broken ribs and a broken back. The mother and two of her associates were convicted of causing his death.

I don’t want to make a party political issue out of this tragedy as that is not the point. There will be a full investigation into the handling of this case, but it does seem clear that there were serious failings in protecting this child from abuse and ultimately death.

The principle that social workers are guided by in these cases is that if at all possible children should be left with their parents, and for good reason. All the evidence shows that children who are taken into care, do worse at things like educational achievement, and of course it is not unknown for abuse to occur in children’s homes themselves. It is always a tough call for a social worker to remove children from the family home.

That said, it is hard to imagine given the extent of the injuries suffered by Baby P, that not one of the various professionals involved in the case spotted the danger. Interestingly, neighbouring Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott, said on the BBC Politics Show, that she thought social workers were ‘box ticking’ and avoiding using their professional judgement in cases like this. There does seem to be a culture of statistics and targets within all levels of the public services these days, national curriculums, school league tables, health service waiting lists etc, and this is surely the influence of central government. Perhaps if public service professionals spent more time out there in the thick of it, and less time filling in forms, we might have more effective services.

Of course the primary blame in this horrific case is with the perpetrators of the crime, but in some ways we are all culpable. People are uneasy about reporting their suspicions to the authorities, because they don’t want to interfere in other people’s lives, and maybe we have lost sight of our community obligations, and indeed our communities in general. The area of Haringey in which this took place has not been revealed, but I would bet it was in one of the more deprived areas of the borough, which is itself an indictment on the society that we live in.

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