Friday, 2 August 2013

Daniel Pelka

The short and wretched life of Daniel Pelka who was starved, tortured and eventually murdered by his mother and step-father has distressed even those of us who have deal regularly with such matters. I heard Professor Ray Jones talk helpfully about this on the radio and he has now put his thoughts in writing. You can read them at:|SCCC|SC019-2013-0108#.UfuBMqJwaid.

He says: 'It is somehow not enough to just blame Daniel’s mother and her partner, who were found guilty of his murder yesterday.This time the school is the focus of attention, but already social workers are also being held to account.'

It does seem very strange that teachers and others noticed that Daniel was starving - four year olds do not normally scavenge for food in dustbins - but they were fobbed off by his mother's fabricated account that he had an eating disorder. But we should suspend judgement. There will be a Serious Case Review, conducted by Coventry Safeguarding Children Board, and this will be published.

In his article Professor Jones calls attention to the national context in which services are operating: increasing poverty, rising demand for protective services, and reduced funding. Of course poverty does not excuse deliberately starving and torturing Daniel, and immediate statutory services - though not support services - have been financially protected. But rising demand does make it more difficult to identify high risk cases, and the task of doing so is one which other agencies are often all too happy to pass to Children's Social Care who can then be blamed when there is a death like this.

But there is another issue about Serious Case Reviews. The ostensible purpose of these is to learn lessons from what happened but there can easily be two underlying assumptions which are hard to challenge. One is that  all deaths of this kind are preventable. Some may be - and this one certainly looks like one - but not all. And the other is that if they are not prevented then responsibility lies with the professionals rather than the perpetrators and it is they who should be blamed. We saw this with the Peter Connelly ('baby P') case in Haringey a few years ago and it can happen again with Daniel Pelka.

Serious Case Reviews also cost a great deal of money and take up a lot of time and energy which, arguably, would be better spent improving services. However, they do have their value - and I write as someone who has conducted several. The government has recently encouraged Local Safeguarding Children Boards to use a variety of methods to conduct them. But we come back to a few home truths.
  • Safeguarding is everyone's business. If you think a child is at risk, report it and keep on doing so.
  • Bring a healthy dose of scepticism to implausible explanations of problems.
  • The responsibility for this death lies squarely with the two people convicted of murder.