Page last updated at 05:16 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Child killing rate 'drops by 40%' in England and Wales

By Danny Shaw
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

Baby Peter Connelly
Deaths occur when good practices break down, the report says

The number of violent deaths among children in England and Wales has fallen by almost 40% since 1974, research has suggested.

The Bournemouth University study says the death rate is the fourth lowest in the Western world.

Better monitoring by social workers and improved liaison between health visitors, paediatricians, GPs and police had led to the drop, it said.

The US and Germany had the highest violent death rates, the study found.

The research was shown to the BBC ahead of publication in the British Journal of Social Work later this year.

Researchers examined the number of killings and other - unexplained - violent deaths of children aged 14 and under.

In England and Wales, between 1974 and 2006, the annual number of such deaths fell by 38% from 136 to 84.

When these things go wrong it is because very often because the usual good working-together has actually broken down
Prof Colin Pritchard

As a proportion of the child population, violent death rates almost halved from 32 to 17 per million children.

Prof Colin Pritchard, from the university's school of health and social care, said the findings showed violent death rates among children "had never been lower" and were a "relative success story".

He told BBC News: "Thirty years ago England and Wales were the third or fourth highest child killers in the Western world, but we're now fourth lowest.

"There's been a gradual decline in these terrible events," he said.

The death of 17-month-old Peter Connelly, who suffered more than 50 injuries including a broken back before his death in Haringey in 2007, thrust the role of social workers into the spotlight.

He had been seen by various health and care professionals 60 times before he died.

However, Prof Pritchard said improvements in social care systems, along with a greater focus on child poverty, had helped improve the death rate.

"When these things go wrong it is because very often because the usual good working-together has actually broken down," he said.

Recruitment drive

Last year, the government launched a drive to recruit more social workers.

Ministers feared criticism in the wake of the Baby P case - and another involving the torture of two boys by brothers aged 10 and 11 in Edlington, South Yorkshire - was turning people away from the profession.

The campaign was backed by stars such as actress Samantha Morton and musician Goldie.

The Bournemouth University study examined nine other major developed countries, with most showing similar reductions in child violent death rates.

Spain was the lowest, at four deaths per million children, with Italy on five.

The United States' figure was 47 deaths per million, a 2% rise since the mid 1970s, while Germany's was 21.

Data from Scotland and Northern Ireland was not analysed for the study.

graph shows violent deaths of children in major developed countries

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