Daniel Pelka, a four-year-old child, was starved and beaten over a period of months, before his death at the hands of his mother and step-father. The evidence of his suffering was in full view of staff at his school, who observed his desperate attempts to forage for food, his severe weight-loss and his numerous visible bruises and injuries.
As a mother of two young children, I am deeply affected by Daniel’s story and extremely concerned that many of the circumstances surrounding his death are all too reminiscent of other appalling cases of child abuse over recent years. Once again we learn how people in responsible positions were in regular contact with a child in distress, but failed to take the necessary action to save his life.
Daniel’s case further highlights the urgent need for new legislation requiring the mandatory reporting of child abuse, as already exists in many other countries – as of 2012, there were mandatory reporting laws in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, Sweden and USA to name but a few. Everyone needs to understand this critical hole in the law – there is currently no legal requirement of anyone working with children in the UK to report suspected or known abuse to either the appropriate local authority officer (the LADO) or to the police. Although child abuse is of course a crime, reporting it is – unbelievably – entirely discretionary.
Along with many others, I find it incomprehensible that teachers, teaching assistants and other staff in Daniel’s school did not do more to help him. I was heartened that Geoffrey Robinson, the MP for Coventry North West, publicly expressed his anger at Daniel’s school and at social services, calling for the resignation of key individuals “bureaucracy triumphed over common sense, care, and compassion… people seeing a kid beaten, starved to death in our own country… you can’t just say there is nothing we can do about it.”
One way in which we can help better protect children is to make those around them legally responsible. Legislation is needed which requires staff working in regulated activities – schools and early years etc – to report concerns. This will not only help children in distress, but it will also help staff to report abuse without hesitation or fear of reprisal. I have asked my MP Ann Coffey to raise this in Parliament.
As with other children before him, Daniel Pelka was let down by all of the relevant agencies. We need to ensure that adults in regulated activities come to the aid of vulnerable children, in this case to the aid of a child who could be seen to be literally struggling to survive. If those around Daniel had been legally obliged to report his abuse, then perhaps the system would not have let him down him as it so tragically did.
A ‘serious case review’ into how our education and social services systems failed Daniel is now underway; its findings will be considered by David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove (amongst others). Whatever the outcome, staff working in regulated activities clearly need to be supported by a law which mandates the reporting of allegations. Now is the time to petition for that change – to make it a legal obligation to look out for, protect and safeguard the well-being of vulnerable children.
As Nick Clegg said of Daniel’s case “Clearly people must have seen something was wrong with this boy, I think his death should be on all of our consciences.”
Kind regards, Paula Barrow