Child protection can only work if
professionals from every agency involved take far greater
responsibility, argues director of social services David Wright in
his submission to the Victoria Climbie Inquiry.
The social services inquiry into the death of
Lauren Wright in Norfolk was crystal clear about Norfolk social
services’s failings. Quite simply, mistakes were made and things
that should have happened didn’t happen. Social services have gone
through difficult times and taken a wide range of measures to help
improve matters. Morale has suffered and the situation that
front-line child protection social workers operate in is still far
situation is critically important because we know that the reality
is that systems to protect children are only as good as the people
who use them and those people – our front-line social workers –
have one of the most difficult jobs going.
workers in Norfolk are handling 27 new cases per day concerning
children who may face neglect or abuse. Even before an inquiry has
begun, it is always the social worker that is vilified. Other
caring professions are not treated in this way.
month the NHS inquiry published its report into the health
service’s failings in the Lauren Wright case.1 The
inquiry chairperson, Barry Capon, was clear about what went wrong:
“The health agencies did not give Lauren Wright the best service.
If they had, despite all the faults identified by social services,
it is most likely that she would have been protected. There was
poor communication, failure to pursue diagnosis and over reliance
on other professionals to act.”
message from him is clear and fundamental to the whole issue of
child protection – shared responsibility must be clearly accepted
and acted upon by every professional involved in child protection.
It is no good to do your bit and assume everyone else will do
theirs. There must be a greater sharing of responsibility and a
much clearer understanding of the part that everyone has to play.
Professionals cannot carry out those responsibilities in isolation
from everyone else because if they do, a child in danger is more at
risk of slipping through the net.
Specific changes to the child
protection system will also help in making the system more robust.
After the conviction of Lauren Wright’s stepmother Tracy Wright and
her father Craig Wright, I wrote to Lord Laming to ask that his
inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie consider the Norfolk
submission, written with Marian Brandon, a senior lecturer at the
University of East Anglia, is based on our experience of the Lauren
Wright case and research from elsewhere in the country and makes 18
recommendations. One of the most controversial is our conclusion
that once a child has been on the child protection register, then
that marker should stay with the child after the original threat
could argue that such a marker could stigmatise a child, drawing
attention to a risk that isn’t there anymore. Although a child
might not be in immediate danger, it is clear that having been on
the register is a useful indicator of vulnerability.
new care situation may be safer but the child might still be
carrying with them the “damaged behaviour” that continues to make
them vulnerable to further abuse.
Alongside an enhanced register
there needs to be a new virtual agency, a system of key information
with details of child protection registration and other concerns
for the child’s developmental risk. Every agency involved in child
protection should share this system so updated information is seen
instantly by all professionals involved.
However, a new virtual system, an
enhanced child protection register – whatever recommendations
emerge from the Victoria Climbie Inquiry – must go hand in hand
with concerted action to support front-line staff and enhance the
public role and perception of what they do.
a sad fact that that every high-profile case and inquiry stokes up
the pressure further, denting morale and making it harder to
recruit and retain. Mistakes will be made and we need every agency
within the system to operate as an equal part of the virtual
agency, to ensure that error by one can be challenged in another.
Whatever emerges from the Victoria Climbie Inquiry, we can no
longer leave it just to social services – and those front-line
social workers – to be expected to put things right in isolation.
Submissions to Phase Two of the Victoria Climbie Inquiry can be
found on the inquiry’s website:
David Wright is director of Norfolk
1 Barry Capon
(chairperson), Report of the Inquiry into the Death of Lauren
Wright, Norfolk Health Authority, March 2002