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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 11:12 GMT
Climbie report: Are safeguards now in place?
The long-awaited report into the death of Victoria Climbie has urged major reforms of child care services in England.
Among the major proposals included in the report is the creation of a new national organisation responsible for children and families.
Eight-year-old Victoria died from abuse and neglect while living with her aunt Marie-Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning.
She was seen by a number of social workers, nurses, doctors and police officers before her death, but all failed to spot the abuse.
The case triggered a wide ranging inquiry, which has identified four councils, the NHS, the police, the NSPCC and the government's own Social Services Inspectorate - who all failed in their duty of care to Victoria.
Are the necessary safeguards now in place to prevent this from happening again? Does the report go far enough?
Thank you for your comments. This debate is now closed. A selection of your e-mails is published below.
Anna Harper, UK
The scapegoat culture has proven itself to be alive and well as one agency after another tries to distance itself from the wreckage of this tragic case. Unfortunately in many cases it is far from clear cut what they should do. If they err too far one way the results can be tragic, as Victoria's case has proven. If they err too far the other way and take a child from innocent parents they are liable to disrupt and disturb the child (and the legal action which would inevitably follow).
It is simply not reasonable to allow a group of individuals the power to destroy a family based on nothing more than suspicions and unsubstantiated allegations, yet they must have the power to prevent a case ending like this. I see the real problem as being down to the simple fact that nobody seems to have actually seen Victoria herself. It's not just a question of more money, it's a matter of people actually doing their jobs properly.
I would like to see the authorities whose job it is to protect children being made to do the job on pain of being charged as accessories if they fail. Little children repeatedly "slip through the net" and lose their lives, while the lazy jobsworths who are supposed to protect them continue to be employed in jobs at which they have demonstrated frightening incompetence. In a society which is supposed to be getting increasingly tough on people who abuse children, it is amazing that we don't seem to get so tough on public servants who are supposed to be helping to protect children.
V Gya, UK
78 visits yet the child was only seen on one occasion. It is easy to blame the government and maybe rightly so. It seems reasonable to blame the "local authority / management" but for me it is the individuals who really should be taken to task. Their job carries a duty and a responsibility and it seems that they are incapable or worse still unprepared to act responsibly - how much initiative do you need to have to realise that on previous visits the child wasn't seen and that that cannot be right.
To prevent it happening again, social workers must be well trained, motivated, intelligent people, well supported by other services such as the police and the courts. There should be more of them so case loads are cut to an acceptable level. And they must be a separate "emergency service" NOT under local government control.
The only problem is, this all costs money which the government will not commit. And without it there will be more mediocrity and more tragedies.
Duncan McDonald, London, UK
As a former insider, I can say this. As a first step, Social Services should be removed from local authority control, and be funded directly by the Department of Health. This would remove local political control and funding crises. There should be a national recruitment / career structure instead of local, and the endless form filling necessary to remove children at risk of harm should be cut drastically. Also, there should be much more careful regulation of children's homes: some places cost over £1500 a week for a single child with behavioural problems: you could send them to Eton for a lot less.
I have had experience of child abuse as I was accused of it some time ago, when I was a single father bringing up an 18-month-old daughter. After six months and three court cases, I eventually managed to prove/convince the courts and everyone else involved that the accusation was untrue. The 'knock-on' effects of this on my life are still affecting my relationships. However, if such pre-emptive action prevents such an awful tragedy then it must be worth it. I have just been listening to a social worker, who stated that 'no-one could guarantee that this could not happen again'. Surely it's about time that someone took the responsibility to say just such a thing? How many more children have to die before these people accept that they have done wrong and failed not only society and themselves, but more importantly, the very children they are supposed to protect?
Simon Richardson, UK
Social workers are in short supply and the number of applicants for social work courses have decreased over the past few years. With the new education reforms for universities, the fact that people will have to pay for the courses and face massive debt following graduation, and the relatively low pay attached to this profession is not going to encourage more people to train as social workers. This will make problems even worse in the future! Surely the government should consider making certain courses for certain qualifications non-fee paying to encourage more people to train and therefore aim to protect children in the future. The government needs to have more foresight as opposed to planning for the short term.
Plus they move house frequently and use various names so they never seem to leave a trail, especially at A&E departments! But unless I can come up with photographic evidence or a string of witnesses then no one wants to know. The courts would rather leave the child with a natural parent and try to rehabilitate the parent than move the child. Some parents cannot be rehabilitated and as such should have no parental rights. The courts and social services should have far more power when it comes to child cruelty. In my view they seem too scared to rock the boat. If I sound bitter it's because I am.
I think a huge part of the problem is the distressing ability of large organisations, commercial as well as government, to make their employees feel as though nothing they do can make the smallest bit of difference. I'm fortunate enough to work in a place where employee empowerment is more than just an empty corporate phrase, but I can only imagine what good social workers have to go through to make common sense prevail in such unwieldy positions. I fear that more regulation may just tie people's hands still further.
It makes me sick. More social workers should be trained to detect whether or not young children such as Victoria Climbie are being abused and tortured.
We in the UK have had dozens of reports and endless recommendations. It has never changed things in the way they need to be changed. Victoria never stood a chance and neither will the next child, until those in charge learn to take responsibility for what they did not do.
This very sad case demonstrates how overstretched and under staffed our social services have become. If our social services were staffed by people of the calibre of Lord Laming then this would never happen. We do not have enough able people to deal with our many problems and this will surely happen again until priority is given to care in our community.
Unfortunately what social workers need sometimes is just raw courage. It's not easy to force someone who is neglecting a child to give you access. In fact it's very frightening and the social worker will undoubtedly be threatened with physical violence. In the past more mature workers could do this job but nowadays being armed with a social science degree and the threat of being sued if you get it wrong is no defence at all.
As long as the agencies involved in child protection have separate budgets and a guaranteed scapegoat in the social worker there will never be sufficient safeguards.
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