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35 years of child protection

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Eamonn Walsh | 15:33 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009

As Panorama returns with more revelations in a follow-up report on the appalling death of Baby P, a look into the archive shows that, unfortunately, we have been in this situation before.

The refrain is all too familiar: a child dies in appalling circumstances, social workers and the authorities are publicly criticised and wholesale changes in child protection are called for.

This was certainly the pattern when in April 1974, Panorama investigated the physical abuse of children, reporting on the estimated two deaths per day in the UK of children at the hands of adults.

The film was made in the aftermath of the death of seven-year-old Marie Colwell, who died in January 1973 after a sustained period of violence at the hands of her step-father despite repeated calls to social services that she was being abused.

As well as the Colwell case, the film also looked at the tragic deaths of several other children who had been known to the authorities and tried to ask what can be done to offer children real, tangible protection. In this clip, Marjorie Turner, the-then chief nursing officer in Ealing, London, spoke to Julian Pettifer about the need to protect children.

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Marie Colwell's death caused a national outcry and the report which followed in effect created the modern child protection system much of which we still know today; such as the child protection register, recently revised and renamed as the Integrated Children's System and the creation of the cross-party case conference system.

Over thirty years on, following the deaths of countless children - some of them familiar names, many simply just a statistic - and the subsequent official reports and inquiries, Children's Secretary Ed Balls is determined to make a difference.

He says he moved quickly to send in Ofsted inspectors to review Haringey's child protections. He also requested a review of the case by Lord Laming and set up a task force looking into the pressures facing front line social workers, a change in the culture in children's services, bolstered inspections and more support for the profession.

He told Panorama: "Will it bring back the little boy who died in Haringey? No, I can't do that. But can we try to make sure that we don't repeat that kind of tragedy in the future? Yes, we can."


  • Comment number 1.

    It is clear from viewing the BBC Panorama programme that a proper application of the solutions-focused Signs of Safety approach could only have benefitted Baby P.

    The serious failings of management, leadership and practice reported in the programme had nothing to do with SF or Signs of Safety. Indeed, as the comments of the NSPCCs Wes Cuell emphasise, the systems of child protection currently in place in the UK have made little significant difference to the number of child tragedies over the years and are unlikely to do so in future. The OFSTED regimes ratings do nothing to indicate where the next tragedy will strike.

    A Signs of Safety approach would have asked what was needed to ensure the safety of Baby P. Maintaining a status quo of child at home suffering suspicious injuries is not a satisfactory answer to that question. Someone was quoted as saying at the time, the situation cannot continue but it did. Thats precisely the sort of poor practice that rigorous Signs of Safety would not allow.

    I hope this case provides an opportunity to increase the use of Solution-focused approaches, including Signs of Safety and the brilliant work of Andrew Turnell, the Brief Therapy Practice and others, to improve, re-inspire and re-energise the depressing (Ballsed-up?) state of child protection systems revealed by Panorama.


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