Yet another tragic child death – Climbiee, Baby P, and now poor Daniel Pelka. This time the authorities say they were conned by the parents, yet there were obvious signs of abuse which were missed. Both parents were on drugs, and probably didn’t know what they were doing.
Whilst cases of child deaths caused by parents are rare – less than 100 per year, inevitably they attract headlines, raw emotions, demands for heads to roll etc. In the case of Baby P the head of social services at Harringey was dismissed in a rather hurried fashion after the political involvement of Ed Balls, then succeeded in proving unfair dismissal with an award of compensation.
If there had been a mandatory reporting obligation at the time, then it would have been possible to prosecute someone for failure to report signs of the child abuse. In the USA the law since 1963 has made failure to report abuse a criminal offence. Indeed England is one of the only commonwealth countries where it is not yet a breach of criminal law. The government are resisting attempts to make it contrary to the criminal law, one presumes because of vested interests in opposition.
One does not want to impose criminal prosecutions on professionals save in the most exceptional cases. The rule would operate rather like corporate manslaughter in the field of health and safety breaches in factories, where a director of a company can be prosecuted if a death occurs for breach of safety regulations. There are perilously few criminal cases, but the deterrent effect works.
Hopefully tonight on News 24, I will be able to interest the government in changing the law. There is an opportunity at the moment as the Children’s and Families Bill goes through Parliament. Together with the Survivor’s Trust, Innocence in Danger, NAPAC, and Survivors, I am challenging the government to do the right thing.