Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

Whereas the first phase of the Victoria
Climbie Inquiry concentrated on the failings of the agencies
involved, the second phase is also considering some of the wider
social and political attitudes that may have helped to create an
environment in which such tragedies can happen. The Family Rights
Group pointed out that the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 had
placed many families newly arrived in this country beyond the reach
of the welfare state, with even those few families who do have some
entitlement to services refused them on the false assumption that
they are debarred from receiving them. Modupe Debbie Ariyo,
co-ordinator of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, gave evidence
about the cultural misunderstandings, such as mistaking signs of
abuse for signs of respect for elders born out of good discipline.
The law which allows corporal punishment in cases of “reasonable
chastisement” only made matters more difficult. It was also
suggested Britain’s colonial legacy was a factor as African
com-munities had difficulty approaching white-dominated statutory

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“It’s usually adults who go on about different cultural
approaches to disciplining children. It’s children in Africa and in
the UK who all seek protection and safety, to be protected and
listened to. So ban smacking, afford asylum seekers the same rights
under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and set up an
independent children’s champion in England. And use the
Comprehensive Spending Review to back this with proper resourcing
for specialist responses and preventive provision”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel
and Care for the Elderly
“It is a major mistake to cloud the issues surrounding
this case with more general debates about race. This detracts from
a clear analysis of what went wrong, who failed and why. It is
important that services are appropriate to the needs of all users
and if the issues that have been highlighted are central to the
failures in this case, then I hope that they can be identified by
the inquiry and that some clear guidance can be given on what needs
to happen to make things better in the future.”

Julia Ross, social services director
and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of Barking
and Dagenham
“It is absolutely right that we should make services
available for all children in need, however they come to our
attention and wherever they come from. However, I do believe that
this situation around our failure to protect Victoria was – and
indeed still is – much more complex than the need to offer services
to children from ethnic minority backgrounds on the same basis as

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,
“There is no doubt that children from ethnic minorities
are alienated from the support and protection systems in the UK.
Some may say that the argument pertaining to colonialism is
outdated and no longer relevant. I would state the opposite. There
is clear evidence of institutional racism permeating systems. For
example, many social workers still believe that the children of
asylum seekers are not eligible for services under the Children Act
1989. We need to start making changes to the system based on the
findings of this inquiry.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson,
Care Leavers Association
“All children in this country should be protected by
social services. Physical or other harm to children should not be
tolerated, whatever their origin. Under the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child all children have a right to
protection and a decent home life. Local authorities should be
instructed to assist asylum seeker children using the Children Act
where necessary. The government chastises Zimbabwe and other
countries over human rights which makes it even more appalling that
firmer action is not taken here to protect the rights of

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