Abuse sums may be fatal distraction

15th July 2005 at 01:00
Since seven-year-old Maria Colwell was beaten to death by her stepfather in 1973 there has been an average of one major public inquiry a year into a child-abuse case. Some names like Victoria Climbie are fresher in the memory than others such as Lauren Creed, a five-year-old from Norfolk who died in 1997 after being thrown down a flight of stairs.

Time and time again the inquiries have made the same recommendation: that public services must communicate better to prevent similar deaths. While social workers and care homes have faced much of the blame, schools have been reminded regularly of the vital role they should play in child protection.

Since the 2002 Education Act teachers have been legally required to be on the watch for potential signs of child abuse. In this light, this week's report by eight inspectorates makes sobering reading. The inspectors found that communication remains poor between teachers and social workers.

Teachers were often unclear about how to spot signs of abuse, particularly when dealing with children with physical or learning difficulties. There were also concerns where school staff had round-the-clock responsibility for pupils, as the majority of boarding schools and many special schools failed to meet the minimum standards for child protection.

A key reason for the continuing failures could well be a lack of training.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has complained that new teachers receive too little instruction in handling child-protection cases even though most have to deal with one within their first 18 months in the classroom.

The report also raises questions about the Government's Every Child Matters strategy which was supposed to lay the foundations for closer working between education and social services through such proposals as the creation of children's services directors.

The Government this week rejected criticisms by MPs that schools and authorities are not getting enough funding to implement the strategy properly. Ministers may wish to re-check figures before the next repetitious inquiry into a child's unnecessary death.

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