Daniel Pelka: NSPCC 'optimistic child cruelty can be ended'
- 18 September 2013
- From the section England
Tucked away in a side street near Coventry city centre, the NSPCC's Boole House is a modest building with ambitious aims.
The charity's high-profile Full Stop campaign talks of ending cruelty to children - the staff of 10 in Coventry, and a small army of supporting volunteers, face the daunting challenge of making that happen in the city.
Cases like that of Daniel Pelka, the four-year-old Coventry boy who died at the hands of his mother and her partner, may make it seem like the charity is shooting for the moon.
Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek were convicted of Daniel's murder in July and jailed for life. A serious case review into Daniel's death said that he appeared to have been "invisible" against the backdrop of his mother's "controlling behaviour".
The charity's own brochures state that previous serious case reviews have highlighted how delays in dealing with neglect have led to "serious injury or even death". But Sandra Lescott-Robinson, the NSPCC's regional head for the West Midlands, believes their target of ending abuse is a realistic one.
"Absolutely I am optimistic - the NSPCC objective is to end cruelty to children, and I don't think we can have anything less," she said.
"Understandably the public want to know that ourselves and other professionals are working to always try and protect and safeguard children and in the majority of cases that is exactly what happens."
Since 2011, the charity has run the ChildLine Schools Service, aimed at making children aged nine to 11 aware of how they can report abuse. It plans to have reached every primary school in the UK by 2016.
"Research shows that the majority of children who contact Childline are over 11-years-old," said Julie Hilton, who runs the programme in West Midlands.
"So what we are trying to do is to reach children who are younger than that."
To do this, volunteers from the charity visit a school and take an assembly. Two weeks later they go back for an hour-long workshop.
"We're talking about physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, bullying and neglect in a way that a young child can understand," Ms Hilton added.
"We want children to speak up to people that they know, a trusted adult - it could be a head teacher, a teaching assistant or somebody in the family."
Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said a teacher was often the person to whom a youngster being abuse turned to for help. She said staff take this responsibility "very seriously".
"If issues of neglect or abuse are raised, teachers should always follow the child protection procedures," she said. "It is important that such matters are handled ensuring the appropriate intervention of social workers."
The three NSPCC service centres in the West Midlands - in Coventry, Birmingham and Stoke - have been operating for two years as part of a new approach to stopping abuse. The charity runs 40 such centres across the country.
Jyothi Raichura, one of the front-line workers at Booth House, said the centres allowed them to bring groups of at-risk children together in a environment where they felt safe.
"Bringing them here means that they're away from school, they're away from home and they're not identified," she said. "Our office is away from town, and we will go and collect the children if we have to."
She runs a programme called Fedup, which works with children between the ages of five and 11 whose parents have drug or alcohol problems. Parents are counselled individually and their children have group sessions at the centre.
Rosie Ingham, the project team manager in Coventry, said the children's relationships with their parents were often complex.
"It's very unpredictable, because they don't know if they are going to come home and find their parents drunk or high on drugs," she said.
"So there is a lot of strain, but a lot of these children are fiercely loyal and can have good relationships with their parents, so we need to get in there and support them."
Many of the parents have had "difficult upbringings" themselves, she added - a circle of abuse the sessions aim to break.
Ms Raichura said she worked with the children to develop a safety plan involving a trusted adult they could turn to in a crisis. She works with other child care professionals so that once the 10-week course is over someone will ensure that they are kept safe.
'Open and accessible'
"We would hope that [the course] is making an impact and it's making children more aware that if they are in a situation where they are at risk, they are able to speak to someone, a trusted adult, so that they can protect them and safeguard them - that's our biggest aim in this," she added.
The NSPCC, and other organisations working to protect children, know that their successes are rarely seen, but that a tragedy like Daniel Pelka will lead to questions about whether they could do more to protect children.
Ms Lescott-Robinson acknowledges that they must keep analysing how successful they are being.
"What we want to do is learn how our programmes improve the lives of children and improve outcomes - and using the learning to say whether they are the best ways to afford children protection and to promote their welfare," she said.
"It can be quite difficult working with lots of agencies all trying to help children and so it's really important that we know whether what we are doing works."
But, she said, the most important thing was that children were aware "our front door remains open and accessible".