‘Punch-Bag’ Baby’s Death Triggers Controversy Over Child Protection Mechanism in UK

by Gopalan on Nov 13 2008 10:49 AM

The horrific end of a 17-month-old baby, treated as a punch-bag by his mother’s boyfriend, has triggered a huge row in the UK over the child protection mechanism in place.

Three have been found guilty of child abuse in the case, in varying degrees - the mother herself, her boy friend and a lodger.

The child had been on the child protection register and visited as many as 60 times by care workers in eight months. Still the tragedy was allowed to take place, and hence all round criticism.

In the House of Commons, Conservative leader David Cameron clashed with Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the lessons that needed to be learned from the death of the 17-month-old baby boy.

He wanted assurances about the independence of the investigations into the events that led to the death of the child. The Prime Minister accused Cameron of "playing party politics" with the issue.

The Tory leader, visibly angered by the charge, retorted: "The Prime Minister accused me of party politics - I did not mention who runs this council, I didn’t mention who ran it when Victoria Climbié was tragically killed.

"All I ask for is the Prime Minister withdraws his accusation that I was in any way playing party politics, and not asking a perfectly reasonable question about a tragic case."

He said: "Let us be honest - this is a story about a 17-year-old girl who had no idea how to bring up a child. It is about a boyfriend who could not read but could beat a child, and it is about a social services department that gets £100 million a year and cannot look after children."

(The baby, whose mother is 27 years old and not 17 as Cameron suggested, died in a blood-spattered cot in August last year.)

Cameron said he has been "sickened to the core" by the crime and that his wife had been unable to watch the television news when it was reported on Tuesday.

He also denounced the internal inquiry being carried out by Haringey Council into the child’s death as "completely unacceptable".
He said the London borough’s head of children’s services Miss Shoesmith, who was leading the inquiry, could "not possibly investigate the failure of her own department".

But Brown insisted that the council’s executive report had already accepted that there were failings and weaknesses in the system and that Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls would now decide what steps to take next in relation to the council.

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, admitted that the situation in Haringey council was "not good enough" and "things have got to get better."

He said that there was evidence that each agency involved in the case had "failed" and there had been "inappropriate" use of family friends as carers.

He went on to add: "The case of Baby P is tragic and appalling. It is our duty to take whatever action is needed to ensure that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again, that lessons are learned and that children in Haringey are safe."

It was also announced that John Coughlan, the director of children’s services in Hampshire, has been drafted in immediately to work alongside his counterpart, Sharon Shoesmith in Haringey to ensure proper procedures for safeguarding children are in place and are being properly applied.

Lord Laming, who held an independent inquiry into the Victoria Climbié case in the same London borough in 2000, has already been asked by ministers to hold a review of child-care services in England.