Child Abuse In Britain

I suppose this also happens in your country from time to time, but last week's news here in Britain was dominated by a story so awful that many of us couldn't bring ourselves to open a paper or turn on the TV.

Baby P was a cute little boy just 17 months old, who died a terrible death in a district of London called Haringey a little over a year ago. The baby, who couldn't be named here for legal reasons, suffered the most appalling injuries at the hands of those who should have cared for him. His mother, her boyfriend and their lodger will be sentenced next month for allowing or causing the child's death. Baby P was on what we call an 'on risk register', which meant the local Social Services were watching out for him. They went to see him on more than sixty occasions, during which time there was growing evidence of abuse -- all of it missed.

Two days before his death a pediatrician examined him and apparently failed to spot injuries including nine broken ribs and probably a broken back, although that may have occurred a little later. In the past week, as more details emerged, as we tried to take in the awful details of the terrible abuse baby P had suffered from those who tortured him in his last hours, so the public rage grew -- and newspapers and politicians clamored for those responsible for his care to be sacked.

And then, a face was put to an abstract name, as some legal restrictions were lifted and we finally got to see this picture of the blonde haired toddler -- hair which was, by the way, cut off by his tormentors. To make it all worse, it was the same Social Services Department of the very same council which failed to help another young innocent child back in 2000 -- an eight year old girl murdered by her guardians, a girl whose terrible suffering was ignored by acts of what the judge called 'blinding incompetence' by the authorities.

That infamous case led to dramatic change here in the system of child care, and to reassurances that such suffering would never be allowed to happen again. Last week, the head of Haringey's Social Services Department said in effect that in the case of baby P, the council had nothing for apologize for. I am sure the Government will not accept that -- we will probably have resignations as well as enquiries. But the last word really has to go to that head of Social Services. The sad fact is, she said, that you cannot stop anyone who is determined to kill their children. It's true and obvious but not something anyone wants to hear.
By Peter Allen