Safeguarding Children in the UK
Dedicated to the memory of these children,
and others not mentioned here;
And to those who are currently being abused by their parents as I type this.
Across the United Kingdom there are over 13,050,000 children under the age of 181, last year over 56,700 children were identified as needing protection from abuse2. It is thought that for every one of these 56,700 children another 8 children are actually suffering from abuse, according to an NSPCC estimate3, this would make the number of children approximately 453,600.
So what can be done to help these children?
The answer in truth is very simple, but in practice is more difficult. The simplest answer is observation and being aware that something is wrong. In practice this can be really hard, some children will try to hide that something is wrong.
It is important to remember that ‘safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility’.
What has happened in the area of safeguarding and child protection in recent years?
A lot has happened over the years in the pursuit of keeping our most vulnerable safe, dating as far back as 1601. The laws back at that time in fairness were arbitrary at best, gladly over the following 400 years things have become more clear and centred around the child’s best interests. In fact, it wasn’t until 1839 that the custody of under 7 year olds was assigned to their mothers under the Custody of Infants Act, something that we have always taken for granted that children are under the custody of their parents.
Until 1889, the police and authorities had no power to arrest anyone who was mistreating a child, nor could they enter a home to prevent any mistreatment from occurring. This law went on to be known as the Children’s Charter, and although changed and amended many times, you could say that this charter is still in place today. This is the Act of law that was amended in 1904, which gave the NSPCC the statutory right to intervene in child protection cases and the power to remove children from abusive or neglectful homes, a statutory right that they still have today and are the only voluntary agency with this power.
Although in the intervening years a lot of good things happened in the area of safeguarding, the next major milestone occurred in 1989, with the inception of the Children’s Act 1989, which introduces the concept of parental responsibility and enshrined in law the inquiries to safeguard children’s welfare. There was another major event in 1989, which was the United Kingdom signing up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), providing 54 articles aimed at giving children rights within our society and throughout the world.
Article 6 of the convention is quite pertinent to this article post as it states that children have the right to be alive, something that sadly the 11 children named at the top didn’t get to live for as long as they had the potential to do.
Article 19 states that children have the right to be safe from being harmed, or mistreated in body and mind. Surely these 2 simple articles are really important and if you look through any further law aimed at keeping children safe you can see that these are at the centre of Government business.
In 1999, a law was passed aimed at stopping paedophiles from working with children, as more recent history shows us, whilst this is important and is good intentioned, sometimes these people do slip through the net and are able to work with children. If we look at the Vanessa George case, better known as Little Ted’s, which happened in Plymouth in 2009, the resulting Serious Case Review found that no ‘professional could have predicted that George might be a risk to children’. This implies that her CRB (DBS) check was clean at the time of being completed, maybe because she hadn’t done anything before this case, or even that she hadn’t been caught offending before this sad case. However, what the Little Ted’s case highlighted was the true extent of the problem of female paedophiles; in fact some experts believe that 20% of paedophiles are female. This is a statistic that is bound to shock people, especially those who expect that paedophiles are all male.
In the year 2000, Victoria Climbié was killed by her Great Aunt. Victoria’s case is the first high profile case of the new millennium. Anybody who has been involved in Early Years, safeguarding or anywhere near newspapers, radio and television will have heard of Victoria Climbié.
This truly is a sad case, which could have been prevented, the Laming Review found that there were 12 missed opportunities to save Victoria’s life. Had one of these opportunities been taken, we wouldn’t be talking about Victoria as she would not be known to the world.
Victoria Climbié was brought to the UK, via France, by her Great Aunt having offered her parents the chance of a better life for Victoria. Victoria was actually the second child to have been offered a chance of a better life, as the original child’s parents changed their mind at the 11th hour. In some reports Victoria is referred to as Anna, as this was the name that she came into the country under, dressed to look like the other child.
In just over 10 months in the United Kingdom, Victoria Climbié was treated in the most inhumane way possible. For the last few months of her life, she was living, eating and sleeping in a bath.
During her post-mortem, the coroner found 128 separate injuries on the little girl’s body.
In sentencing Victoria’s Great-Aunt and partner the judge said, ‘What Anna endured was truly unimaginable. She died in both your hands, a lonely drawn out death’4.
Lord Laming Inquiry
In 2001, Lord Laming was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the events of Victoria’s death; he published a report in 2003, in which he stated:
‘The extent of the failure to protect Victoria was lamentable. Tragically, it required nothing more than basic good practice being put into operation. This never happened.’
The Laming Report provided the Government with 108 recommendations for improving. The Government accepted these recommendations in full.
From the Laming Inquiry, came the Children’s Act of 2004. This Act introduced the concept of Local Safeguarding Boards (LSCBs) replacing the previous system, it also mandated that each Local Authority would appoint a Children’s Director. The 2004 Children’s Act legalised the Every Child Matters Framework, which is seen as one of the most important policy initiatives in the past decade. It has been described as a sea change in the children and families agenda. The Every Child Matters agenda featured 5 key outcomes for children, often the acronym SHEEP is used to remember these:
Every child shall:
Achieve Economic Well-being,
Make a Positive Contribution.
Although, the Governments have changed since its inception, the Every Child Matters framework still exists today, just in different forms and is now referred to inside Whitehall as ‘Helping Children achieve more’.
Also, in 2004, the Bichard Inquiry recommendations for a registration scheme for those working with children came into effect; this started life as the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which has since merged with the Criminal Records Bureau, making the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The Bichard Inquiry was set up in the aftermath of the disappearances and murders of two schoolgirls in Soham, Cambridgeshire, namely Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.
In 2007, Haringey Social Services (the department involved in the Victoria Climbié case) were again in the news for their failure to protect yet another child.
During the initial months of the newsreels, due to the court case taking place, this child was referred to as Baby P, now we know him to be Peter Connelly. He had suffered 50 injuries over an 8-month period. The Government again enlisted the services of Lord Laming to complete a review into the death of Peter, he looked at his own recommendations that he had made in 2003 following the Victoria Climbié inquiry. In his second report, entitled The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report, he starts with four simple words:
‘Please keep me safe’5
He then went on to explore how things had changed in England since his last report. He does praise the Government for the work that they have done, however, in the tone of the words you can tell that he is dissatisfied with how things have progressed. Lord Laming says very clearly:
‘With greater ambition and determination
I am sure it can be done.
Now is the time to prove that the well-being
of every child and young person
really does matter’.
He acknowledges that the report was conducted in a tight timescale.
Whilst Working Together to Safeguard Children had been in existence since 2006, again partly due to the Victoria Climbié case, in 2010 and subsequently several times since, most notably a simpler concise version in 2015, it became statutory, outlining the ways that all agencies involved with children should work together to safeguard children.
Arguably the most useful review in recent years was carried out by Professor Eileen Munro, when the coalition Government came to power to review the safeguarding children processes across the UK, but not because of a specific case but to see what they could do differently to better benefit the most vulnerable in our society. She made 15 recommendations all based around the amount of ‘box ticking’ and central Government prescription in social work practice whilst improving the focus on the needs of the child.
As this article shows, a lot has happened in the area of safeguarding over the last 400 years, however, the events of the last 2 weeks in the UK still show that there is a long way to go, not least the case of Liam Fee, where Fife Social Services stated in court that Liam ‘fell off the radar’. Surely this is the one thing that shows that systems in Social Services still need to be improved; a child known to be at risk of significant harm should not be allowed to simply drop off the radar.
The other noteworthy story in the safeguarding area in the last two weeks, concerns Birmingham Children’s Services, who in recent years have failed many children, to name a few, Khyra Ishaq, Keanu Williams and Keegan Downer. The failing department is now due to be run by a voluntary trust. The Department of Education is to appoint a trust to run these services, plans however, are at an early stage.
I would like to end as I began,
To all the children who have died
at the hands of their parents/family members,
may you all Rest in Peace and may you never be forgotten.
May we also not forget the children that are living at risk of significant harm.
1 ONS (2014) Table MYE2 in Population estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, mid-2014 (zip)
2 compiled using the Home Nations statistics available on the N.S.P.C.C website.
3 How Safe are our Children (2013)
4 The Victoria Climbié Inquiry, Lord Laming HMSO 2003
5 The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report, Lord Laming 2009, TSO