Over the past few weeks, the UK news has been dominated by the story of a four-year-old boy, Hamzah Khan, who died of starvation and horrific neglect at the hands of the person who gave birth to him. The boy’s mother was found guilty of manslaughter and has been jailed for 15 years.
Just a couple of months ago, another awful case of abuse and neglect dominated our news channels. The story of Daniel Pelka, a 5-year-old boy who died at the hands of his mother and step-father. They were jailed for life for their crimes.
On the same day as the verdict of the Hamzah Khan case was to be given, yet another horrifying case of abuse against a child emerged in Birmingham – a city council who’s Children’s Services department had been under intense scrutiny and pressure following a number of cases in the city where the services failed to protect vulnerable children in the city.
When a child dies from abuse or neglect, the local inter-agency group responsible for child protection conduct a review to identify how local professionals and organisations can improve the way they work together to safeguard children. Since January 2013, there have been 18 serious case reviews in the UK. In every review lessons are learned and often changes are made in policy, procedures, and even legislation.
And yet, time and time again, cases come to light of children who have endured a life of cruelty that has led to their death at the hands of the people who should care for them, look after them, nurture them and ultimately, ensure they are safe. There is often a catalogue of errors and missed opportunities by social services, schools, medical professionals and people in the community. And blame. There is always finger pointing and blame being placed on any or all of those involved.
While the finger pointing and blame goes on, we get caught up on who should have done more – forgetting the young lives at the centre of each case that have been filled with cruelty, violence, abuse or neglect. Young lives cut short. There is not always one person or one service to blame.
In Scotland, a policy was published in 2002 following a review of Child Protection practices. The policy was called ‘It’s Everyone’s Job to Make Sure I’m Alright’. The title of this policy could not be more fitting for a review of child protection approaches and emphasises the fact that the responsibility for our children lies with everyone.
As a teacher in Scotland, I am acutely aware of my responsibility for the children in my care. On a daily basis these little ones share their thoughts, experiences, feelings, achievements and fears with me. I see how the children interact, and what they share without saying a word, through their behaviours, reactions and choices. My job is not simply to guide them in their learning. My responsibility also includes ensuring the wellbeing of these children and ensuring their needs are being met. I work with the children, their families and with other professionals to ensure they are building their ‘internal teddybears‘ ready to face the next steps in their journey with resilience and determination. The children in my care are at the heart of any decisions that are made. Their decisions, choices and opinions are at the centre. It’s their precious life, and it’s everyone’s job to make sure they are alright.
Following this publication came the start of Scotland’s ‘Getting It Right For Every Child‘ approach. The main principle of this approach states that no matter where they live or whatever their needs, children, young people and their families should always know where they can find help, what support might be available and whether that help is right for them.
The Getting it right for every child approach ensures that anyone providing that support puts the child or young person – and their family – at the centre. Practitioners need to work together to support families, and where appropriate, take early action at the first signs of any difficulty – rather than only getting involved when a situation has already reached crisis point. This means working across organisational boundaries and putting children and their families at the heart of decision making – and giving all our children and young people the best possible start in life.
“Supporting parents, and providing services which increase stability in their lives, means children are more likely to perform better at school, become more resilient in their response to challenge, and develop into healthy adults” – Sir Harry Burns, Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer
My hope above all else is, in the midst of all the serious case reviews that are happening, the lessons being learned, and the policies being written, that people’s awareness increases, that vulnerable families are directed to services that will help them, that finger-pointing will decrease and personal reflection will increase, and that people will not be afraid to speak up about a situation that is concerning them. Most of all I hope that the children involved do not become a statistic, a prop, or an after-thought, but that they remain the centre of and are consulted on all decisions.