Here is the speech I delivered in support of Daniel’s Law at a peaceful protest in Coventry today:
For Daniel’s Law
Coventry October 10
Firstly, I’d like to thank Nicci for organising this event and for inviting me to speak today.
I was listening to the radio when I first heard about Daniel, a four year old schoolboy who was starved and beaten to death. I will never forget my daughter’s face as she asked ‘Is that true mummy? Why didn’t that little boy’s teachers help him?’
Daniel Pelka was let down by everyone, particularly in the last few months of his life when his regular bruising and broken bones, his desperate attempts to forage for food and his severe weight loss could be plainly seen by those around him – by people with professional responsibility and a duty of care for his safety and well being. This child was literally struggling to survive – he was dying in full view of staff at his school.
The Campaign for Daniel’s Law is specifically concerned with this point.
We know that Daniel was failed by multiple agencies – everyone here today wants to know why; but most importantly, we want to know what changes will now be made to stop it from happening again. Countless Serious Case Reviews repeat the same recommendations – we must make sure the relevant agencies are working together, we must improve communications, we must improve training… but this particular case highlighted a critical hole in the law.
Daniel’s story shocked the nation particularly because he was of school age. He wasn’t out of sight and off the radar in his pre-school years, Daniel Pelka was ‘invisible in full view’– he was wasting away, begging for food, covered in bruises… in regular contact with staff who had a duty of care for him.
Unbelievable as it may seem, reporting child abuse is currently discretionary in this country even for people who work with children – our entire system is based on the hopeful assumption that people will do the right thing, and yet Serious Case Reviews repeatedly show us that staff suspect abuse is occurring but fail to report it.
And there are lots of reasons for that – imagine how hard it must be… no one wants to deal with abuse, people hope it will get better, they don’t want to believe it is happening.
Over recent weeks I have been working closely with the Mandate Now coalition of child protection charities – they constantly deal with cases in which staff fail to report because they are too full of self-doubt, too afraid of being known as a trouble-causer or a whistle-blower, too concerned about how colleagues and parents might react… in Daniel’s case, the worry that pressing home their concerns might make things worse for Daniel also appears to have been a genuine concern.
And that’s why this is so very important – Daniel’s Law will support staff to help children in distress by reporting abuse for expert assessment even in the most challenging circumstances. The Mandate Now charities believe effective safe-guarding can never be delivered without the support of this law.
In other countries, including those as close as Northern Ireland, mandatory reporting laws like these have paved the way for much tighter child protection frameworks – we need a system in which we can have more confidence because there is absolute clarity and accountability.
No one took responsibility for Daniel, no one formally reported the concerns we know staff had for him. Without an external report, there is nothing for agencies to communicate around. Without an external report, there is nothing to drive and focus the professional intervention that can save vulnerable young lives. The campaign for Daniel’s Law calls for new legislation to make it the law for people who work with children to report abuse.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, says mandatory reporting is not needed because the government already offers ‘crystal clear’ guidance on how people working with children should report child abuse. We know this is not true – ‘guidance’ is exactly that ‘guidance’. What does ‘should report’ mean? Certainly it’s not ‘crystal clear’ – MUST report is crystal clear. This is an important if subtle distinction and one thing is for sure – other children’s lives will depend on it. We cannot let the government continue to regurgitate the same messages on ‘lessons learned’ and to rely on a system that is fundamentally flawed.
Daniel’s Law now has almost 62,000 supporters including MPs and Shadow Ministers, child abuse charities, specialist barristers and law firms, teachers and head teachers, nurses and carers, social workers… and parents like me, who are shocked and dismayed to find this law is not already in place.
And support continues to grow.
On September 17, the Coventry Serious Case Review into Daniel’s death reported as follows:
14.8 Unlike the UK, some countries have a process for mandatory reporting of child care concerns to government departments, which raises the question that if it existed here, whether injuries seen upon Daniel would have been independently reported by individuals to the authorities.
The author of the report went on to tell press that Daniel’s Law should be considered as ‘part of any debate’ on future child protection; he also observed that in Daniel’s case such legislation ‘may have given staff the confidence to report’.
On September 17 at 7.30pm, Nick Clegg told the BBC that new legislation had not been ruled out, that the government would take whatever steps were necessary.
On September 17 at 10pm, all major news programmes reported there would be no debate, that Daniel’s Law would not be considered because the government is satisfied that existing guidance works.
Only the power of public opinion can change this position – the government must be made to listen. We need more signatures to make sure that Daniel’s Law becomes his legacy, to help protect other vulnerable children in his name.
So please get a sticker, take it home and go on-line to add your name for Daniel’s Law.