Sir Keir Starmer has attacked the national culture of ‘witch hunting’ that follows child protection tragedies and is, he warned, harming social work.
Speaking to a packed crowd of social workers at Community Care Live, the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service criticised the national culture that blames public servants for child protection tragedies, allowing society to absolve itself of responsibility.
“To my mind, I see not individual failings, but something more profound,” the former director of public prosecutions told social work delegates. “By going after individuals, we let ourselves off.”
Starmer warned this allows society to believe that ‘better’ individuals in safeguarding roles would have prevented the problems in high profile cases, such as the recent Rotherham and Rochdale child sexual exploitation scandals.
He used his speech to argue for the mandatory reporting of child abuse, with the duty to do this being backed up by statute. This would have to complement safeguarding and not cut across it, he said.
Starmer also described “fundamental” problems in the ways that police and prosecutors deal with child victims of abuse, and called the fact that the vast majority of abuse victims do not come forward, “a real indictment of our system”.
“I didn’t find police and prosecutors who didn’t care, they were ordinary men and women doing their jobs,” he said. “The problem was not a rogue prosecutor, but something far more fundamental.
“All police and prosecutors ask: Will the person be credible? Will the jury believe them?” Starmer said.
He described how police were trying to predict how the jury would react and establish whether a victim would “survive the journey” of court hearings and appearances.
He questioned how services can work better to “bridge” child victims or young people at risk into child protection services and expressed shock at the lack of provision for victims and services that have no quality assurance standards.
Starmer is currently working with the charity Kids Company on their campaign to reform the child protection system.