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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 December 2005, 11:48 GMT
Agencies warned over child abuse
Lord Laming
Lord Laming was a chief inspector of social services
The man who headed the Victoria Climbie inquiry says agencies must be more proactive to prevent cases like the children left to starve in Sheffield.

A report found a series of agencies failed to spot signs which might have prevented a couple leaving their five children in squalor.

Lord Laming told the BBC: "Until we get (it) right, we will go on having dreadful experiences like this."

He added the government had "grasped" his own inquiry's recommendations well.

In the Sheffield case, David Askew and Sarah Whittaker, both 24, were jailed for seven years each in 2004 after admitting child cruelty. Police found critically ill one-year-old twins, one "within hours of death", at their Sheffield.

The report by senior civil servant Prof Pat Cantrill, which was published on Wednesday, found not one single agency had looked at the family as a whole.

Lord Laming told BBC Radio 4's programme such abuse was "something that we ought to find absolutely unacceptable in our society".

A former chief inspector of social services, he conducted the inquiry into Victoria Climbie's death.

Victoria, who was eight, died in 2000, malnourished and with 128 scars on her body. Her great aunt and partner are serving life sentences for her murder.

Lord Laming said following the inquiry's recommendations, the government had introduced a new policy document called Every Child Matters and created the Children's Act 2004.

He said it also had an implementation strategy running until 2008 which was important to "make sure what's willed by Parliament actually results in better outcomes for children on housing estates in Haringey or Sheffield or wherever".

He said from what he understood from media reports, the Sheffield case had key similarities with the Climbie case.

Most importantly, services did not implement the central tenant of the 1989 Children's Act which was that "the well being of the child is of paramount importance," he said.

"And until we get that right we will go on having dreadful experiences like this" he said.

Adults' problems

He said instead social services, and other services could get "too easily deflected" on to problems facing the adults in the child's life and that the "children were often not seen and certainly no proper assessment is being made".

One of the bedrooms
Police were shocked at the state of the house in the Sheffield case

Martin Calder, who was a manager of a child protection service in Salford, said there were "issues at a number of different levels in the system" regarding communication.

He told the Today programme: "There remains confusion between professionals around information sharing in cases where there hasn't been an incident and where they have a creeping concern or a number of concerns over a period of time that aren't immediately labelled as child protection."

He said it meant the "jigsaw puzzle" wasn't put together, and the information about the adults was only one piece of the puzzle.

Lord Laming said communication between services ought now to never be easier, especially since a new index introduced by the government made it possible to track children and which professionals were looking after them.

He said instead of a "narrow focus on child protection" a "much broader view" should be taken on how all the services had an essential part to play in promoting the well being of every child.

He added it would help make sure services were "proactive rather than reactive" and preventive work would be given a much higher priority.

'Shock' over children's neglect
24 Nov 04 |  South Yorkshire
Parents kept children in squalor
23 Nov 04 |  South Yorkshire
System 'failed starving children'
21 Dec 05 |  South Yorkshire


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