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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 09:30 GMT
Political correctness 'putting lives at risk'
Children at school in Guinea
Plight of West African children 'ignored' in UK
By BBC correspondent Angus Stickler

Poor practice and political correctness are putting the lives of West African children living in the UK at risk, social workers have told the BBC.

In light of the death of Victoria Climbié, BBC Radio 4's Today programme has been investigating the plight of many West African children living in the UK.

It has found evidence they are being traded in this country as part of a benefit scam to pay off their parents' debts.

Social workers told the programme their plight was being ignored by many social services departments.

Managers rarely confront the problem for fear of being accused of racism, they said.

Weak management

One social worker has worked in several London boroughs.

He told me that in all of them, fear of upsetting West African colleagues meant abuse continued unchecked.

Three other social workers in different boroughs shared his views. They said they would lose their jobs if they spoke on the record.

Another told us of three separate cases of alleged child abuse - where children claimed they had been brutally beaten, cut with knives, even sexually abused.

All were returned to their carers.

Children abandoned

The social workers believed weak management had allowed poor practice to flourish.

Inaction meant children were effectively abandoned by those who were paid to protect them.

Mary was brought to the UK by a Nigerian woman who she called Aunty.

She said she was used as a domestic slave - working 17 hours a day. She claimed she was half-starved and regularly beaten.

Mary said she suffered for eight years and said social services only made the problem worse.

She said when social workers tried to talk to her, she was taken home and beaten.

Victoria Climbie

Some social workers from the West African community accept that pressures to fill job vacancies, poor training and bad management has led to unacceptable working practices.

Eight-year-old Victoria Climbie was murdered by her aunt and her lover under the noses of the authorities in the London Borough of Haringey.

All the signs of abuse were there, but her behaviour was explained away as normal for a West African girl.

Victoria Climbie
Victoria Climbie's death prompted inquiry

The ongoing public inquiry into her death has heard evidence from a Haringey social worker who claims that the manager in charge of the case - Carole Baptiste - spent most of her time during supervisions talking about God and her experiences as a black woman, instead of dealing with child abuse.

Ms Baptiste has not had a chance to answer the allegations. She is currently being prosecuted for failing to attend the inquiry.

Today tried to contact social workers accused of bad practice but none returned the calls.

All the professionals spoken to were uneasy about airing their concerns - they did so through a sense of frustration and because they say they have the interests of the children at heart.

They fear the system is failing - and say children deserve better.

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