While the Victoria Climbie Report has provided a compelling account
of the lack of response to her plight by a range of health, welfare
and police professionals, it has not analysed some of the broader
reasons why our child protection system fails.
This failure is nowhere more evident than in the report’s 108
recommendations, which are almost all concerned with setting up
tighter administrative and managerial systems to monitor the
responses of front-line child protection practitioners.
What is really needed is better trained, more experienced
front-line workers with greater degrees of discretion, not less,
and career paths which allows them to remain in direct contact with
child protection cases.
Also, there is much to recommend professionals from health, police,
social work and other agencies being based together and working
jointly on serious abuse investigations. There are good examples of
inter-professional teams in the areas of youth offending and young
people’s mental health services. Had Victoria been presented to a
multi-disciplinary child protection team on just one of the
occasions when she did come into contact with individual agencies,
perhaps a different outcome would have ensued.
A further cause for concern about Lord Laming’s recommendations is
the lack of reference to policy developments in the 1990s such as
the shift towards a more family supportive approach which, while
having much to recommend it, must surely be reconsidered to some
extent in the light of Victoria Climbie’s death.
Finally, Laming does not consider some of the broader cultural
issues that impact on violence to children and therefore on child
protection work. In 2003, despite the fact that at least nine other
European countries have banned corporal punishment of children by
their parents, we have made no progress at all in this direction.
Physical punishment sets the scene for child abuse – it sends a
message that it is a legitimate means of controlling children. In
our view a strong statement about this in the Victoria Climbie
Report would have had considerable impact.
Our overall judgement is that given the importance of the inquiry
and the expectation that significant changes to our child
protection system would result, Lord Laming’s recommendations are a
Stella Coleman is senior lecturer in social work and Brian
Corby is professor of social work studies, University of Central