After the Baby Peter case, as part of our campaign, we along with other lobbying groups, produced a ‘Master Letter’.
Because of the time and help donated by volunteers up and doen the country who sent the letter to their own MPs, we managed to reach about 40% of all UK MPs, and as a result we were invited to meet John Hemingway, MP, at the House Of Commons.
This part of the campaign has now closed, though you are still very welcome to copy and send the letter below to your MP, if you feel it represents your views.
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,0 00,000 members of the public, who have come forward with suggestions to try to improve child protection in the UK. We are doing this because we feel that the government is not doing its best for our vulnerable children despite all the promises it made 8 years ago after the death of Victoria Climbie. We are therefore pushing for real, lasting change to both the justice and child protection systems.
As you will see from the distribution list at the end of the letter, this letter is being sent to government ministers and Members of Parliament, Directors of Children’s Services, various Child Protections Agencies and leading children’s charities throughout the country.
This letter is long, and we know you are incredibly busy, but we implore you to take the time to read it. It is the result of months of investigation and research by normal people, among them mums, dads, people who work in the care sector and many others. It is constructive and proactive, and we hope it will be of some use to you.
preventable deaths of Baby Peter & all children like him are a clear indictment of Britain’s failure to protect vulnerable children. An alarming report by Ofsted recently revealed that up to 4 children die every week in England from abuse or neglect. Two thirds of the victims were less than a year old.
Experts say that 1 in 10 UK children suffers abuse or neglect and it is estimated that one million children are affected each year.
In January 2003, Paul Burstow MP wrote a damning piece on child protection claiming; “30 years of government neglect has left [the] child neglect and abuse toll unchanged”. Six years on, despite countless promises, nothing has changed. On 5th March 2009, the Audit Commission reported that overall “Children’s services remain the weakest area of councils’ work” and “some 22 town halls in England saw their star ratings for children and young people’s services decline in 2008” demonstrating that child protection is still not the top priority that it should be across the country.
In the summer of 2008, MP John Hemming requested copies of all Serious Case Reviews from the150 English local Authorities. In 92% of the SCRs sent to Mr Hemming by the 129 authorities that did cooperate, Children Services acknowledged that more could have been done to prevent the child’s death. “The reviews reveal that the same systematic failings on which Lord Laming blamed Climbies’ death are still happening, and if anything, have got worse… the shocking state of affairs is partly a result of the total lack of openness about what is happening” (Daily Mail Feb 2009).
Effective measures need to be adopted to recognise and tackle child abuse at its earliest stages. Lord Laming’s excellent recommendations excluded how Social Workers could better perform their jobs on the front line when visiting children at risk, where improvements and clear nationwide guidelines are urgently needed! Lord Laming’s recent review maintains that many of his key recommendations following the horrific death of Victoria Climbie in 2002 have not been implemented, at the cost of children’s lives. Lack of inter-agency communication and scandalous delays in follow-up action to name just two.
Some of the recommendations and preventative measures outlined in this letter could be implemented quickly and effortlessly and could have a considerable beneficial impact on child protection and saving lives.
While the list is long, it includes many valuable suggestions. We therefore sincerely hope that you will kindly take the time to read these proposals and push forward all those you agree with.
We list what we consider to be the most important 25 recommendations first, followed by all other recommendations divided up under headings.
25 Most Important Recommendations:
(*Highlights areas where Baby Peter was let down)
1)The NSPCC say that babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse. Given that the vast majority of abused children are not known to the authorities, introduce regular compulsory physical health checks, at least 4 times a year for ages 0-2 and three times a year for ages 2-5, to help reveal any signs of abuse or neglect. Social Services should be alerted if appointments become overdue. These would also serve to highlight any health or devolopmental issues that a carer may be unaware of and may help support struggling parents too.
2)*workers and health visitors should be required to physically examine young ‘at risk’ children. A child on the ‘at risk’ register means that child is considered to be at risk of significant harm and it has been demonstrated that abusers will go to great lengths to hide injuries. Examinations should therefore be compulsory at every visit to an at risk child or when a new child is investigated for concerns of abuse, as this is the easiest, quickest and most effective way to determine if a child is being abused or not. Guidelines on what to look for should be clear and concise.
3) A Health Visitor or Social Worker investigating allegations of abuse should never be allowed to conclude that there are no child protection concerns without ever seeing or examining a child.
4) Similarly, many child protection cases are closed without the child or family being seen first. This poor practice cannot be allowed to continue and again the child should be examined first.
In the news recently was a 3 year old Carlisle toddler who was tortured by her father Reuben Williams her entire life. Because a Health Visitor determined after speaking to the mother that there were no child protection concerns without ever seeing the child and because 3 months later, a Social Worker did not examine the child despite renewed allegations of abuse, she was subjected to a further completely avoidable 18 months of being whipped, burned, punched, scratched and bitten. Her body is now permanently disfigured by nearly 200 scars and the emotional harm done is incalculable. Points 1) and 2) & 3) should hopefully avoid unnecessary and prolonged suffering of this kind.
5)Social Workers should carry out a task list at every visit. This should be adopted nationwide and include:
*Physically interact with the child
*Physically examine the child
*Checking the cleanliness/hygiene of all living quarters. People who allow children to live in squalid and unhygienic conditions without good reason, already show a clear disregard for a child’s welfare
*Checking for evidence of undisclosed people living at the property and Criminal Record Bureau Check all residents and regular visitors
Checking there is sufficient food and other essential supplies
*Note and investigate any behaviour in the child that may be indicative of abuse e.g. self-harming, neurotic, sad, or withdrawn behaviour, detachment of carers with child etc.
*Insist children in nappies be changed to reveal cases of serious nappy rash which can be painful and lead to infection
*Insist any food, ointment, paint and other potential concealers of injuries be removed from the child
*Ensure they see the child unrestrained and moving to assess any difficulty with movement and possible injury
See children old enough to speak on their own away from carers and in the presence of another professional, so that the child can talk without fear
*Checking for signs of drug use or alcohol abuse as these are often linked to cases of child abuse and neglect
Observe family’s interaction with pets as abusive behaviour may be indicative of domestic violence
*Checking for any other dangers (Social Services allowed Baby Peter to return home even though his mother had not followed instructions to have the dogs removed)
6) If a social worker strongly suspects physical abuse, they should have the power to remove the child immediately while the matter is investigated, with or without police aid.
7)Social workers must be aware of ‘red flags’ that could be cause for concern and should check on the child without delay every time one is raised as the child may have already sustained injury or be in poor physical condition. These should include:
Carers regularly appear not to be at home or who say a child is unavailable (confirm child’s whereabouts immediately)
*Carers failing to attend any appointments
*Carers saying that they can’t see anyone for a period of time
Being denied access to a child or its living quarters
8) *An urgent review of the criteria required to take a child into care. In Baby Peter’s case 2 doctors, the police and a Social Worker stated separately that Baby Peter should not be returned to his mother and yet lawyers said there was insufficient evidence to start care proceedings. These criteria should be nationalised, to end the postcode lottery element of child protection.
9) *Children should be removed immediately from carers known to be violent, addicted to drugs or alcohol until they can prove that they have cleaned up their act and can provide responsible care. Repeatedly, deaths result from children being left with unfit or incapacitated carers.
10) Mandatory regular medical examinations for all children on the at risk register at least every 2 weeks. This would be a very simple and effective way to maintain a picture of the child’s health and any decline or injuries could be picked up reasonably quickly.
11) *Unacceptable delays in follow-up action plans, in organising inter-agency meetings and medical assessments often lead to the death of a child. Clear national guidelines need to be adopted for the time period allowed to elapse between meetings which should be determined by the urgency of the case to be monitored and updated as required. A Baby Peter report reveals that 1) it was decided in March 2007 that there should be an urgent ‘paediatric assessment’ for Baby Peter but it did not happen until two days before Baby Peter died in August 2007 (5 months later!) and 2) at a case review meeting on June 8th it was agreed that the case was urgent but no health professionals were present and the legal review did not happen until six weeks later, a week before Baby Peter died.
12) *If on 2 occasions child protection authorities (police/medical) advise against a child being returned to its family, Social Services should not have the power to overrule this.
13) We welcome the government’s recently proposed domestic abuse register. However, this must include information on child abusers. Single parents also have the right to protect their children from new partners with a history of violence against women, children, or men. This domestic abuse register must be available to the Police, Social Services, and the NHS. All NHS and child protection personnel must refer to this database when a child is injured or referred to social services.
14) *Introduction of the whistleblowers’ hotline for the use of all child protection agencies and the public to expose internal bad practice, as soon as possible. Better protection for whistleblowers as these are precisely the conscientious, scrupulous and caring Social Workers that the profession cannot afford to lose. An article in February 2005 states: “Figures from the TUC released last week reveal that 1,500 employees who blew the whistle about work between 1999 and 2004 were sacked…Despite the code of practice now encouraging whistle blowing, there are cases of social workers who have exposed what they believe to be poor practice, only for the decision to cost them their job…The Commission for Social Care Inspection’s chief inspector David Behan sees whistle blowing as a key weapon in improving standards in social care services”.
15 ) *There also needs to be a on gagging orders on whistle blowers as they only serve to hush up bad practice and allow it to continue unchecked. If the system is as effective as possible, there should be nothing to hide.
16) Introduction of the Children’s database ContactPoint, already proposed by the government, which must be used and accessed by the NHS, Social Services and the police to help strengthen communication between the agencies. Currently 66% of hospitals fail to check if an injured child is involved with social services and a lack of communication* was cited in 75% of child death Serious Case Reviews. It should be a legal requirement that when there is a development in a child protection case, ALL agencies (police/social services/medical) MUST be informed.
17) However, ContactPoint must also include information on that child’s carers thereby holding information on potential child abusers or predators that may move from one family to another. In “Some of the most shocking SCR summaries…police and children’s services remained oblivious to the killer’s violence towards previous victims” (Daily Mail Feb 2009).
18) Up to 80% of Social Workers’ time is spent on administration. Free up this time to be spent with vulnerable children instead with adequate admin support. In addition, focus needs to be protecting vulnerable children – not meeting targets, budgets, or red tape.
19) *Recruit and retain adequate numbers of high quality, well trained Social Workers and Health Visitors.
20) *Although supporting a family through crisis is important and should be implemented, a child’s welfare must always take priority over keeping a family together.
21) Abolish parole and increase all minimum and maximum sentences for crimes relating to child abuse and neglect.
22) Introduce a maximum tariff of Life for conviction of the death of a child through abuse or neglect and life imprisonment to mean life in child death abuse cases involving sadistic behaviour and/or a persistent disregard for a child’s welfare. Also, introduce a minimum prison sentence for these crimes.
23) Introduce a new law making any person, who is silently complicit in the abuse of a child by their partner, family members or friends, accessories under law. They should carry equal responsibility for that child’s abuse and demise and their sentence should be similar to that of the abuser(s). To stand by and allow a child to be abused is in itself an appalling crime and the justice system does little to reflect this. While there are no excuses for failing to protect an abused child, domestic violence and/or fear of, would no doubt be a mitigating factor that would reduce sentencing.
16-month-old Amy Howson’s mother allowed Amy to suffer months of abuse at her father’s hands before he killed her by snapping her back in two. Despite the fact that Amy was seriously under-nourished, dehydrated and was the same weight when she died as she was at 6 months, Amy’s mother, clearly herself responsible of shocking neglect, was given a 12-month suspended sentence despite admitting allowing the death of a child and child cruelty.
There are countless examples of such people who get off far too lightly or without any sort of punishment. What sort of deterrent will there be for other people who place their abusive partner and/or drug/alcohol addiction above their own child’s safety and happiness, not to mention justice for the young victims they failed to protect? What message is the government sending to potential child abusers? Why is there not a zero tolerance policy on child abuse?
24) Introduce the offence ”allowing or causing child cruelty” for cases where it cannot be proved who was abusing a child when a child survives. It should carry a sentencing range equal to that of child cruelty. On February 28th 2009, Judge David Hodson denounced a trial as a “charade” after he had to free contemptible parents who tortured and battered their four-month-old twins, one of whom suffered brain and eye injuries caused by shaking and a blow to the head. Because of legal restrictions, the Judge was powerless to jail either of them, even though they should have faced up to ten years in jail for child cruelty. Councillor James Foreman, South Tyneside Council’s children and young people chief, said: “The law needs to be changed with regard to having knowledge of what is happening and not doing anything about it.”
The people who devised “allowing or causing the death of a child” should have foreseen and resolved this legal loophole at the time. It is truly shoddy work and an absolute disgrace. We are failing our most vulnerable citizens.
25) After the Victoria Climbie enquiry, Lord Laming recommended a new child-protection agency be formed to ensure policy is implemented at a local level and that lessons are shared when children are killed. This never happened. Are there any plans to introduce such a child-protection agency and if not what other measures will there be in place to ensure that policy is being adhered to? OFSTED do not necessarily seem to be aware if policies are being upheld hence the favourable rating they originally gave Haringey shortly after Baby Peter’s death.
Other points raised:
26) *or Social Services must inform the police about any further developments or injuries when there is a child protection investigation in process, even when they believe it not to be suspicious.
27) *Child protection staff (Medical/Social Services/Police) need to be held accountable when important information is not shared between the agencies.
28) Police should report to social services all cases of domestic violence situations or drug abuse where children are present in the house and such children should be monitored regularly or removed.
29) Make it a criminal offence for NHS professionals not to report suspected cases of child abuse, as it is in Northern Ireland.
30)All professionals (health/education) that have contact with children must be encouraged to report suspected abuse. Professor Ruth Gilbert, a child health expert from University College London, said: “Scarce reporting to child-protection agencies is a cause for concern”. Child abuse is grossly under-reported – even by the schools and community health services that have continuous contact with children. There is reluctance by professionals to intervene when they suspect abuse for fear of doing more harm than good and being accused of breaking up families, according to the experts ().
31) Share and distribute Serious Case Reviews in full. MP Tim Loughton said: “‘A major way forward to improve the standard of these serious case reviews must be to publish their findings in full, subject to suitable redaction and anonymisation…’This will help everyone to learn the lessons of mistakes, will restore public confidence in the protection process and will ensure that no material facts are swept under the carpet”. There is very little point carrying out SCRs at £20,000 a piece if they are not distributed in full to local Safeguarding Children’s Boards, all other local authorities and child protection government departments as it means that the same mistakes will just be repeated time and time again across the country.
Social Services and ‘at risk’ children:
32) Social workers and/or police should investigate every report of child abuse or neglect, regardless of how often they have been called out to a particular family. If necessary, press charges for repeat hoax calls.
33) If a child is returned to their parents after abuse or neglect has been suspected that child must be monitored closely and the child seen and examined at least weekly by a social worker, Health Visitor and/or family doctor initially for the first 3 months, gradually cutting back over time as long as the child is seen to be well and thriving.
34) If a parent has had one or more children taken into care then all siblings should also be taken into care. In addition, new subsequent children should be removed into care at birth. In the case of Rhys Biggs he was left in the care of his mother when another child had been taken into care – this risk cost his life and is simply unacceptable.
35) *Legislation demanding accurate recording of minutes at all child protection meetings and indeed accurate recording of all relevant information regarding a case. At a Baby Peter legal review held in July 2007, a report states: “no proper minutes were taken”. This is by no means an isolated incident and too many councils allow such bad practice to occur regularly. The meeting could even be recorded, as in police interviews.
36)Introduce regular supervised and joint practice Social Worker visits both pre and post qualifying. This should be mandatory for new child protection investigations and occur regularly once a child is placed on the child protection register. This should help avoid any potential problems being missed and gives social workers an opportunity to raise any doubts or concerns with a second party. As we know child protection is not an exact science and a second opinion would help encourage good practice. This system means that while one principal Social Worker would mainly deal with a particular family, that family still has at least one back-up contact when the key Social Worker is unavailable. Lastly, Social Workers may be visiting volatile, aggressive and potentially dangerous situations alone which must compromise not only the safety of that Social Worker but the thoroughness of their visit and investigation.
37) If a Social Worker is on holiday or sick leave, there must be a system in place whereby other Social Workers can quickly and easily access information on their cases and cover if need be. Any gaps in the service of child protection are unacceptable but happen regularly.
38)More needs to be done to support social workers making the transition from the ‘family support’ model of intervention to the child protection model. Social Workers must remain open minded even if a family appears to be cooperating and must be aware that abusers can be very convincing in their deception.
39) Training modules to include identification of psychopathic behaviours would be useful, if only to lend a healthy does of scepticism to a social workers view when visiting high-risk homes. Such individuals lie to an extensive degree, and use multiple diversary and deceptive tactics to disguise their behaviours.
40) Social workers should be trained to some level in the investigative and interrogation activities undertaken by the police, during police interviews. Recent criticism has been that as a profession, they are too trusting in people and this allows them to be hoodwinked.
41) Training to include elements of other professional perspectives, thus enabling more panoramic thinking, and improve knowledge of service and support availability for second opinions. It may also encourage better cooperation between the agencies that appears to be lacking in many cases.
42) It has also been a criticism that there is not enough on the job training and newcomers fresh out of college make unaccompanied visits from an early stage.
43) A review of the system MUST include gathering information from Social Workers on the front line as well as the managers. This is essential if serious improvements are to be made.
44)Child protection meetings are often chaired by the person also responsible for managing the department budget, so how can they be impartial when they know how little resources they have available?
45)Introduce regular out of hours and unannounced visits with flexible working hours to accommodate this.
46) Social Workers need to be aware of profiling and the higher risk factors that may contribute to child abuse:
Premature, underweight or sick babies
*Carers who were themselves abused or neglected
*Evidence of drug/alcohol abuse
*History of cruelty to animals – a Social Worker should “be observant about the care and treatment of pets in assessments of children and their families. While not making any assumptions, consider the possibility that children who are repeatedly harming animals may have been abused themselves or may be living in a climate of violence”.
47) *Managers should not be allowed to overrule a Social Worker’s request to have a child taken into care without valid reason and especially without visiting the child/family themselves.
48)In 2008, OFSTED inspectors considered 40% of Serious Case Reviews to be ‘inadequate’, which is hardly surprising when councils are naturally reluctant to reveal the true extent of their own failings. Serious Case Reviews need to be carried out by a fully independent . As exemplified by the original Baby Peter SCR, also considered inadequate by OFSTED, children services deliberately left out key compromising information and delays that contributed to Baby Peter’s death.
49) We understand that some SCRs are still ongoing after a year and others are not carried out at all. All SCRs should be completed within 3 months for every serious incident involving a child.
50) *If someone is assigned by the council to check on or live with the child at risk’s family, that person must be CRB checked and monitored to ensure they are performing their duties.
51) Carers should be told that they won’t be judged if they admit to not loving a child or that they resent looking after a child or that they simply can’t cope and that they can choose to have the child put into care, if only temporarily.
52) To be placed on the child protection register, a child needs to be considered to be at significant risk of harm. As a society, why are we prepared to gamble with children’s lives in this way? Perhaps we need to review the threshold that needs to be reached before a child is taken into temporary care until the risks are reduced.
53) In February 2009, The Sun reported that the government is to introduce “‘crack’ teams of specially-trained nurses to be sent into high-risk homes to prevent tragedies like the Baby Peter case. They will visit “vulnerable” first-time parents at least once a week from early pregnancy to the child’s second birthday. The nurses will make sure the child is being brought up properly, and look for signs of abuse”. This is some of the best news to be revealed since Baby Peter’s tragic story hit the headlines and we cannot thank the Labour government enough for suggesting this ground breaking proposal which should have a significant impact on detecting and preventing child abuse. We would like clarification as to whether this would involve all first time parents or just those considered ‘vulnerable’.
This service needs to be extended to all children on the ‘at risk’ register as these children are in dire need of such a service to ensure their well-being.
54) *If social Services refer a child for assessment, the doctor must do a full examination regardless of whether they have been given the case history or not, and this should be completed even if the child is ‘cranky’.
55) A Health Visitor or Social Worker must follow up in person on all children who are admitted into hospital Accident & Emergency within a couple of weeks of the child being discharged from hospital.
56) Urgent follow-ups if a child misses a developmental medical appointment or immunisation. Is there any system currently in place to monitor this and raise a red flag when such an appointment is missed?
57)Child benefits should be suspended if carers fail to attend any scheduled child health checks when the child is at-risk.
58) Health visitors MUST visit new mothers in their homes to better assess how the mother is coping and whether or not the home environment is suitable for a baby.
59) Bring back the school nurse – have a nurse dedicated to each school one day per week. As well as looking out for signs of neglect and abuse, the nurse can also advise on health issues.
60) Government led hard hitting advertising campaign to encourage people to report child abuse detailing signs of abuse and neglect, who to contact and driving the message home that the public can help save lives and unnecessary suffering.
61) Family life classes should be introduced at schools for all ages. From as young as four children should be introduced to what constitutes good parenting and healthy family life thereby raising awareness of child abuse within schools. Abused children may not realise that their treatment is not common practice and they need to know that assistance is available and where to seek help. It should also be compulsory to teach every child at school from a young age, of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. Let them know the physical, mental, and sociological problems it can lead to. These classes should be taught by resident child welfare professionals and should be held regularly throughout every academic year to help avoid future generations of abusers and other criminals. Young children readily absorb important information, whereas if left until teenage years, it can already be too late.
62) Parenting classes should be introduced at secondary school. At this age, young people are beginning to become the adults they will be, and the attitudes they shape in their teens are likely to stick. This would give teenagers a greater understanding of the responsibilities of rearing children, that it is hard work, time consuming and that it’s not something to take on lightly (as so many do). It would also help to avoid any potential abuse cycles repeating themselves and soaring teenage pregnancy rates.
63) Introduce ‘Parenting classes’ to run alongside antenatal classes for all first time parents to raise awareness of a child’s physical and emotional needs; coping strategies in times of stress, such as, when a baby is continuously crying; the dangers of shaken baby syndrome and alternative ways of dealing with difficult behaviour in young children.
64) All people who come into contact with children through their profession should have training to spot the signs of child abuse and must be made aware of their duty to report any suspicions of abuse. This includes social workers, NHS workers, police officers, teachers, nursery staff and childminders.
65) *In Baby Peter’s case, police had agreed in December 2006 that the threshold for issuing an interim care order had already been met but a report reveals that a ‘Meeting decided threshold had been met but it was not worth pursuing’. What is the point of having guidelines and thresholds for having a child removed from their family if these guidelines are ignored? Why was it not considered worth pursuing? What can we do to eliminated the perceived reasons why it was not worth pursuing?
66) *Police failed to take photos of Baby Peter’s injuries – “‘No photographs were taken of child’s injuries when police visited. Investigation drifted for two months. Specialist doctor emailed police re calling an independent review but received no reply” (The Mail). Photos should always be taken of children’s injuries and details clearly logged. Again truly shoddy work on behalf of the police involved.
67) The term “significant harm” needs to be defined in The Childrens Act 1989. The present system leaves this to the individual interpretation of each social worker sometimes leading to lack of appropriate intervening action or over zealous inappropriate action against families. “If the Government cannot define clearly or precisely what it means for a child to be in danger of “significant harm”, how can [OFSTED] inspectors distinguish between appropriate investigations and those that are an unjustified intrusion into family life?” (The Telegraph).
68) There are not enough foster carers. Therefore, re-introduce well run, nurturing and loving childrens homes with carefully vetted, compassionate, educated, and expert staff. This would also benefit siblings who might otherwise be separated.
69) Be more willing to conduct an Independent Public Inquiry into all councils that repeatedly fail in their duty to protect ‘at risk’ children in their care. There is a desperate need for more transparency and therefore opportunity to learn lessons from past mistakes.
70) Government intervention and/or monitoring of any council who’s child protection systems are rated inadequate by OFSTED until such time that their performance improves. Create a new Social Work Taskforce/Management team equipped to help and turn around failing child protection services.
71) Set in place a legal age limit of when it is safe to leave children home alone.
72) The NSPCC can currently only answer two-thirds of the 2.3 million calls for help they receive from abused children each year. Given the importance of this service, we hope that the government will give continued support and funding to Childline.
73) Accurate publicly available statistics and information to be kept on all instances of child abuse, neglect and related child deaths including information on how many of these cases involved drug/alcohol abuse, how long the sentences were for convicted child abusers, how many years of these sentences will actually be served, and how many of these offenders went on to re-offend upon their release. In addition, accurate statistics on how many crimes involve paedophiles and how many of these re-offend. The NSPCC says it wants the Government to publish annual data from police forces showing the number of victims in addition to the number of offences, and to link it to the number of convictions and cautions. Paul Burstow MP said in 2003 that “the full extent of child homicide is still hidden as there is no permanent database of fatal child abuse cases”.
74) *Legal and childcare costs are deterring some councils from taking child abuse cases to court. To stop this happening, there should be a central government fund in place for these expenses. John Barrett MP wrote: “The decline in court filings after the increase in fees is an alarming trend that needs to be rectified. Although the £40 million grant to help pay for local authority legal fees was deemed substantial enough I concur that there needs to be set aside for the specific purpose of legal fees and not go towards other council expenditures”.
75) *Lower cost of care proceeding court fees back from £4000 to £150 as it has been reported that these excessive charges are deterring some councils from taking appropriate action to save at risk children.
76) Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for local Government and Community’s suggestion: “Teenage mothers could be housed together in residential units rather than in individual council flats. If you are a young mum simply left on your own, then it is very hard. Forty years ago we had mother-and-baby homes usually run by nuns…now you could do it in a much more modern kind of way”.
Changes to Legal/Judicial/Sentencing system
frequent over-lenient sentences for child abuse and related deaths convey that as a nation we tolerate such abuse and murder.
Darren Monkton got a mere 3 years for sadistically abusing his partners’ son. His partner, despite knowing about the abuse and hiding it, received no custodial sentence at all. For raping a 3-month-old baby repeatedly, Tanya French served 30 months of a 5-year sentence. Baby Chloe Thomas was 3 months old when she died. She had over 40 Broken Bones. Her parents were both convicted of child cruelty; her father was sentenced to 3 months in prison. We could go on and on, sadly, we have many more examples.
Too many offenders have been getting off too lightly for violent and horrific crimes against defenceless children. To add insult to injury the vast majority of these vile offenders are released after serving only half their sentences under the current early release system.
As a nation we wish to say that we will no longer tolerate these heinous crimes against our youngest and most vulnerable and would like to suggest the following changes to the legal, judicial and sentencing systems:
77) Significantly higher minimum and maximum sentences for all who cause or allow the abuse or neglect of a child.
78) Some things are worse than outright murder. The ongoing abuse and torture of a child culminating in their death is far worse. The child sometimes suffers horrific mental and physical pain and torture for years. Sentencing should reflect this and all child abuse related deaths should carry a discretionary life sentence.
79) Life imprisonment for all who cause or allow a child to die as a result of abuse or neglect regardless of the charge. We understand that when the sentencing framework for ‘causing or allowing the death of a child’ was first created, some members of the panel, including Judge Gareth Hawkesworth, wanted life sentences imposed for this crime. So we are by no means alone in thinking this way.
80) Parole should be abolished for all violent crimes and non-accidental deaths. Perpetrators of such crimes must be made to serve their sentences in full.
81) Re-introduce Labour’s “two strikes” law which imposed a life sentence on anyone convicted twice of a second serious sexual or violent offence.
82) Offenders responsible for causing or allowing any violent crime or non-accidental death, should be legally held accountable for each and every applicable offence. Resulting sentences should then be served consecutively. This should serve to lengthen prison time and better reflect the gravity of these crimes. Why were the Baby Peter three only charged with causing or allowing P’s death and not the child cruelty, neglect or failing to protect him leading up to his death?
83)Close the legal loophole that allowed Rhys Bigg’s mother to avoid charges of murder, manslaughter or causing or allowing the death of a child on the basis that cause of death could not be determined. Claire Biggs repeatedly crushed her two-month-old son Rhys, fracturing 17 of his ribs, and inflicting a horrific series of painful injuries. He died hours later. Because the exact medical cause of Rhys’s death in May 2006 could not be established, Claire Biggs could only be charged with child cruelty. NSPCC lawyer Barbara Esam said: “The law needs to be addressed to cover cases where a carer has inflicted serious injuries on a child – where the child does not die or where it cannot be proved that the child died from the injuries inflicted.”
84) Introduce a new law that upgrades manslaughter, homicide or causing or allowing the death of a child to murder when abusers and participants aware of the abuse consciously choose to withhold medical treatment when a child is in clear need of medical attention. In withholding treatment, those people are making a conscious decision to let that child suffer and die needlessly and should be justly punished for the consequences of their decisions. At the very least, sentences should be increased to life in such cases.
85) All crimes involving abuse, cruelty or serious neglect should automatically carry a custodial sentence. Too many offenders are getting off with little or no punishment or receive community service sentences that the government regularly fails to enforce.
86) Adopt the french law of ‘failing to protect a person in danger’ or introduce an equivalent. A similar case in France to that of Baby Peter, saw members of the victim’s extended family and doctors prosecuted for failing to assist a young boy who suffered years of appalling abuse before he died.
87) No new identities for criminals upon their release, at vast expense to the tax payer. The public have the right to know who these dangerous people are who walk amongst them and a dangerous criminal’s rights should never take precedence over the public’s rights and safety. If necessary, keep them locked up for their own safety. Start putting law abiding and innocent citizens’ rights first.
88) It is morally wrong that sentencing policies and laws should be governed by lack of prison space rather than by the gravity of the crime. We therefore urge you to reconsider the introduction of the Titan prisons or other measures to help alleviate prison space shortages and stop making a mockery of our justice system and its victims.
89) People caught with images or videos of Child pornography or abuse, should serve far tougher sentences as by participating and paying for these images they are directly responsible for funding and encouraging child sexual abuse, rape and exploitation. In January 2009, a Head teacher got only 6 months, of which he will serve only 3, for the possession of videos of men having sex with children. Sentences should closer reflect the gravity of the abuse and misery they help fund and support. Sentences, as they stand, are no deterrent whatsoever.
90) Instate the Control of Internet Access (Child Pornography) Bill which would mean require Internet Service Providers to declare publicly whether or not they have taken, or are taking, appropriate technical steps to block access to web sites that contain child pornography” under a new law.
91) Sex offenders should be put on the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely – not for a limited period decided upon by a judge.
92) If abusive pet owners can be banned from keeping animals, a similar law should be in place to protect children from abusive carers or carers who allow a child to be abused or neglected. Why should children have fewer rights to protection than animals?
93) Abusers should forfeit all visitation and parental rights.
94) More openness in child protection failings and in family law courts to prevent injustices and to ensure that the public remain informed of cases of child abuse, neglect and related killings. “Lord Laming saw SCRs as an essential link in a chain of accountability, and a way to avoid repeating mistakes. Indeed, our investigation suggests it is crucial that SCRs are published and distributed in full across the country” (Daily Mail Feb 2009). No more cover-ups of bad practice.
95) The period to appeal unduly lenient sentences should be increased from 28 days to 3 months.
96) Lastly, we wholeheartedly support Jack Straw’s review of the Human Rights Act to better reflect personal responsibilities and we look forward to hearing of positive developments in this area in the not too distant future.
People are crying out for change and feel that the current legal system and sentencing framework simply do not reflect the gravity of these heinous crimes against our youngest and most vulnerable.
Children in Care
97) ‘Lost in Care’ May 2009 series revealed the scandals of the British care system.
“Children who have been through the care system in this country are likely to leave that system – at just 16 years old – ill equipped to deal with independence and with emotional and psychological problems. They are also more likely to become homeless, drug and/or alcohol users and fall foul of the law”.
It revealed some shocking statistics:
– 1 in 5 girls leaving care will already be or become mothers within a year
– nearly a quarter of prisoners have been in care
– 1 in 3 homeless people have been in care
– 53% of children in care fail to get any qualifications due to the trauma of being repeatedly moved around the care system, losing friends and having no stability in their lives.
– Estimates for the number of 16-24 year olds who have been in care who are unemployed range from 50% to 80%.
“This is the bleak outlook that faces many of the 80,000 children who are in care in the UK and the 25,000 children who enter the care system every year”.
These all too regular poor outcomes for children in care are partly due to the national shortage of 10,000 foster carers and partly due to the fact that the current system with its legal hurdles means that it takes far too long to have babies & young children adopted even though it is often known that many of these children are unlikely to ever be able to return to their natural parents.
“On average, 4,300 babies under one year old enter the care system annually yet only 120 are adopted while they are still babies. Dr Selwyn stated that “For every year a child is in care, their chances of being adopted reduce by 20%””.
“In America, their laws now state that unless the biological parents of the child can prove they are going to be ‘responsible’ and stable parents to their child, the law severs all the child’s ties with them by the age of 15 months, thereby increasing the chances of that child being adopted and reducing the long-term damage that the lack of stability in infancy can bring in later life.
Here in the UK, on average, a child will be 2½ years old before legally, the child’s parents will be forced to give up any claim to that child, and the experts such as McKeganey and Hughes agree that the critical ‘bonding’ time has by then passed and “the damage is done””.
We would like to see:
a) a nationwide campaign to recruit more suitable foster carers and if necessary more adoptive parents
b) for the UK to introduce a system of adoption closer to that of the USA who seem to have a child’s best interest at heart rather than the parents who fail them. This system offers children greater stability at an earlier age and therefore much higher hopes of a brighter future.
c) “ensure that the young person leaving care has the practical skills to live independently (budgeting, hygiene, paying bills, healthy eating, seeking support) and secondly to equip the young person with emotional and social skills to function within society” (‘Rough Guide to Leaving Care’ – )
d) Care leavers are given adequate access to training, support and help in finding employment.
We sincerely hope that as many of these recommendations as possible will be implemented to help save young lives and unnecessary suffering of the kind that is reported all too regularly in the news.
While we appreciate that many councils and social workers do an excellent job in safeguarding children, many believe that Britain is facing a child protection crisis. With serious ongoing child protection failings across the country, the government and some child protection services’ careless and lackadaisical approach to child protection needs to be addressed urgently.
We very much look forward to hearing your thoughts on any of the points that you feel strongly about and would be most grateful if you could highlight your party’s proposals for improving child protection and the justice system’s handling of child abuse.
If you have not done so already, please consider signing Lynne Featherstone’s EDM 53 requesting a public enquiry into child protection at Haringey. It is the least we can do for Baby Peter and other abused children in the hope that lessons may be learned and the necessary measures adopted to improve child protection.
We also ask that all MPs please consider writing to their associated Directors of Children’s Services to find out which of the key recommendations from Lord Laming’s report have or have not been implemented.
Thank you for your time and consideration.