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25 October 2013
We now live in a society where access to information is instant, 24 hour TV, online newspapers and Google. Although we can often filter the information that we want to see, there are some items of news that receive so much exposure we can't fail to notice. Once we have noticed the news we can then make our feelings heard via social media; our opinion becomes validated. Now don't get me wrong, I am all for these new exciting times, but we have to be very careful how it affects change, particularly in relation to the law.
For almost all people in society, Child Protection is one of our top priorities, and should always be at the forefront of government policy and legislation. But how true is this?
Most people will remember the case of Victoria Climbie who died with 128 separate injuries after months of abuse at the hands of her great aunt and her boyfriend. The media frenzy during that case, and following it, led to a government enquiry which Lord Lamming carried out. Sweeping changes to Social Services were recommended, along with better sharing of information between public services, and the Children Act 2004 was put into law.
A few years later and another wave of media interest swells with the death of Baby P in 2008, who suffered months of abuse at the hands of his mother and stepfather. The media were outraged and the government acted again, with Lord Lamming conducting a second review of child protection procedures.
We have just witnessed this again in September 2014, with the recent case of Daniel Pelka. Daniel was tortured and starved to death by his mother and stepfather in March 2013. The media focused on blaming the school and social workers for not noticing the abuse that Daniel was suffering, and they again focus on the lack of sharing information between different professional services such as school, police and social services.
It appears that whenever a child dies at the hands of its parents or carers the media becomes involved and starts the ball rolling, with damning comments about there not enough being enough done to protect children and accusations that schools, police, and social services have failed another child.
The media start the knee jerk reaction that there is someone else to blame other than the people responsible (Daniel's mother and stepfather, Baby P's mother and stepfather and Victoria's aunt and boyfriend). Whilst the authorities may have some blame to shoulder, the media fail to mention the huge majority of children that are safely protected from their families or carers and are placed away from those that pose a risk to them. They do not look at the thousands and thousands of cases where the Local Authority and professionals succeed in protecting children by placing them away from danger with either extended family or alternate carers. It is always the very small minority of cases that are publicised, creating a distorted view of reality and it is often these cases that lead to enquiries being carried out and changes implemented to law.
Should it be right that one abhorrent case that makes the news leads to change, or should we as a society be more mindful as to the reality of what is happening every day? Perhaps media attention is the only way to force change?
Lois Monks is a recently qualified solicitor specialising in Childcare law.