Child B’s story is shocking. The four-year-old girl, with cerebral palsy, was returned to the care of her parents early last year after a stay with foster parents. Over the next nine weeks, they kicked, scalded and scalped her – leaving her permanently damaged.
Despite 20 visits in that time by a variety of professionals, it fell to her grandmother to alert the police to the abuse.
Media commentators have been unequivocal about the case – Child B is another Victoria Climbié, who has been let down by the child protection system the professionals involved were inept and, as such, complicit in the abuse. Even Lord Laming is questioning whether we’ve learned the lessons of the influential Victoria Climbié Inquiry that he chaired.
So, we clearly need another high-profile inquiry that brings everyone to book and sets out the way forward. Or do we?
In the case of Child B, the family were known to all agencies, the decisions had been agreed by a court and the situation was being monitored. That’s not to deny there were failings – an independent review says there should have been more direct communication with the children and the approach was too parent-focused. Westminster Council accepted the findings and put appropriate training in place.
But it wasn’t a gross system failure as in Victoria Climbié’s case. The professionals involved with Child B were simply too optimistic about the outcomes. And it comes back to the balancing of risk – the risk of keeping a family together against that of putting a child into care.
It can be minimised through careful, multi-professional deliberation, supported by close monitoring, but it cannot be eliminated. We need to explain this risk – and the complexity of the decision-making in child protection – to the wider media and its so-called experts.
The misreporting of this case could be enormously damaging to the future of child protection. It’s a field that is already struggling with recruitment and retention and the vilification surrounding this case is unlikely to help.
There’s also a danger that this isolated case will lead to defensive practice across the board. Fewer families will be happily reunited and many more children will go into care. At least there is some good news from this sorry episode – one year on, Child B is doing well in the care of foster parents, as her assailants start long prison sentences.
Child B case: this is not another Victoria Climbié, says Julie Jones