Baby P: Lord Laming calls for earlier action in child protection cases
Lord Laming, one of the country’s leading experts on child abuse cases, has warned that social services need to act quicker and more decisively to protect youngsters like Baby P on the “at risk” register.
Lord Laming’s comments came after the man responsible for the death of Baby P, who can now be identified as Peter, was convicted of raping a two-year-old girl.
The man, 32, was found guilty at the Old Bailey on Friday, after the girl, now four, became the youngest rape victim in history to give evidence in court.
The girl was attacked by the boyfriend of Baby P’s mother, while she was supposedly being monitored by Haringey Council.
Haringey also failed 17-month-old Baby P and Victoria Climbie, another child victim of appalling abuse who died in 2000. The boyfriend, who was convicted last year of causing or allowing Baby P’s death, is now facing a possible life sentence.
Lord Laming, who chaired the public inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie and carried out an inquiry into the role of social services in England after the death of Baby P, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that in cases where children were at considerable risk there needed to early, decisive intervention by the authorities.
“Drift is the enemy of good practice,” he said. “We certainly ought to be looking seriously at making a much more effective assessment at an early stage of the unease, setting a case plan of action for the parents, making sure these are addressed within reasonable timescales and – if the parents do not demonstrate sufficient child skills despite the help we can provide – then the matter should be taken to court.
“I believe the State should become a responsible and effective parent to more children. That doesn’t mean children have got to be snatched away – I don’t mean that for one moment. Let’s not go from one extreme to the other. But there has been a reluctance from some authorities to bring these cases in front of the court.”
Lord Laming said that sound regulations and guidelines now existed to protect children. “The real challenge is to get it all off the paper and into standard practice at the front door of every agency.”
He said that it was worth reflecting that last year some 55 children were killed in the UK by a relative or a member of the extended family. “We really need to do better, especially for the children who have been identified as living in circumstances where the risk factors are very high.”
Lord Laming is concerned that in some local authorities almost 50 per cent of their “front-line staff” have less than two years experience in the job, yet they were given some incredibly difficult and demanding cases.
He said: “This is unacceptable. It can be addressed. I believe that we have in place the possibility of a really first-class service, but we have to address the practice issues.”
Baby P’s grandmother has also told BBC1’s Panorama programme, which will be shown on Monday, how upset she was when she learnt of her grandson’s death. At the time, he was thought to have been a cot death victim.
She said: “Even that was a shock. I nearly fainted in the tube station. So I jumped on a bus, went down to me mate’s house and cried my heart out for nearly 20 minutes, half an hour.”
An independent review is under way into how Haringey social services dealt with the case of the raped two-year-old girl. It will be conducted by Graham Badman, the chairman of the Haringey Local Safeguarding Children Board.
Councillor Claire Kober, Haringey Council’s new leader, has insisted changes will be made.
“All the agencies in Haringey responsible for child protection are now implementing an action plan to improve children’s services,” she said.
“We accept that things went badly wrong with our child protection services. It is our job to put them right. I am determined that we will make the changes necessary.”