We do need to get it right for every child

25th September 2009 at 01:00

"I have suffered too much grief in setting down these heart-rending memories. If I try to describe him, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him" (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery).

This was the sentiment of Lord Laming when he reported on the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie in January 2003. Has anything changed; have lessons been learned? Not if we look into the circumstances of the recent deaths of Baby P in Haringey or Brandon Muir in Dundee.

Every significant case review that has been carried out in the past 10 years has concluded that information was not shared between agencies until there was a crisis or, in the case of Brandon, before there was a fatal incident. No young person has died because too much information was shared.

We also know that statutory agencies are dependent on receiving and sharing information if they are to protect vulnerable children. This may come from the family or a neighbour. It is vital we engage with the community so they understand that "it's everyone's job to make sure I'm alright".

They used to say it takes a village to bring up a child, but that doesn't mean a village of professionals. Experience suggests that the most vulnerable families are also those who give most concern and are the hardest to reach. They are the families who require familiar faces and continuity of care to develop trust, to reach a point where they feel able to disclose domestic abuse or drug misuse which all featured in Brandon's short life.

It was obvious that health and social work were struggling to provide this continuity of care, because of staff workloads. The family was not on the "intensive" health-visiting programme, and there was little consistent or sustained contact throughout 2007. Health visiting and social work staff stated that the family did not stand out and there were many more worrying ones.

It is essential agencies collaborate and co-operate. If there are concerns of a child protection nature, they do not need permission to share information. It is vitally important issues are discussed in multi-agency forums. This will enable professionals to gain an understanding of procedures in other services and to develop an understanding of and confidence in their colleagues.

The only service that sees children on a regular basis is education, and then only after they attend nursery. Early intervention is clearly necessary where there are ongoing concerns, and some families will need to access placements in local authority baby units where children will be monitored and families supported. The Getting It Right for Every Child agenda places expectations on inter-agency collaboration and planning to support vulnerable families. Every authority in Scotland must embed it in its services.

We need to learn lessons from these tragedies and focus on the whole child, identifying needs and providing a co-ordinated approach across all agencies which will support the delivery of proportionate, timely and appropriate help to children when they need it.

Gerry Neale is child protection officer in educational services with West Dunbartonshire Council.

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