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 Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 14:17 GMT
Child protection 'must be colour-blind'
Victoria Climbie
Victoria Climbie died despite contact with social services
Britain needs a "colour-blind" child protection system to help prevent another tragedy like the case of Victoria Climbie, social service leaders said on Thursday.

The Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) is among the bodies submitting recommendations to the Victoria Climbie inquiry which is examining the death of the eight-year old.

She died after months of abuse by her carers - her great-aunt Marie Therese Kouao and Kouao's boyfriend, Carl Manning.

The fact that Victoria, from Ivory Coast, and both her carers were black had played a part in the failure of professionals to protect her, the ADSS said.

Victoria and her great-aunt Kouao
Kouao systematically abused Victoria
Staff were concerned about the complexity of the racial issues and the implications of "getting it wrong".

The ADSS called for definitions of significant harm, set down in law, to be commonly applied to all children, irrespective of their and their parents' ethnicity or culture.

But failure to report suspected child abuse should not be made a criminal offence, it added.

'Watershed'

On Friday the Climbie inquiry is due to stage the first of a series of public seminars designed to gather views as to how another case like Victoria's can best be avoided .

ADSS president Michael Leadbetter said the inquiry could be a watershed for public agencies.

"We will need to look inwardly at the way we manage our own agencies, and outwardly, at the way we liaise with, support and cooperate with each other in order to ensure that all the lessons of Victoria's death are well and truly learned and understood," Mr Leadbetter said.

Victoria Climbie died in February 2000 despite regular contact with four local authorities, two police child protection teams, two hospitals and social workers.

The ADSS said tighter work practices and better training for those working in the field of child protection were vital.

And it recommended more accountability of individual senior managers and the setting of performance targets linked to identified outcomes for children.

Kouao and Manning are serving life for Victoria's murder.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The first phase of this enquiry is now over"
  Barnardos Chief Executive Roger Singleton
"This is a landmark case"
  Michael Ledbetter, Assoc. Directors Social Services
"A key finding is the need to listen to the children"

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19 Feb 02 | England
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