We hear yesterday (26.08.14) the full extent of the heartbreaking story of children in Rotherham. A paedophile ring so vile and widespread in a relatively small areas that over 1400 children children (at current numbers) were subjected to horrific and longstanding sexual, emotional and physical abuse. Although it would be more than right to concentrate on the effect upon these children, their families, friends etc … instead the failings on many levels of the child protective services is something that needs some urgent discussion over and above the condemnation of the failure to protect so many children.
Rotherham has a population of roughly 250,000 and children between the ages of 10-17 account for about 25,000 of that population. If the figures are correct, and I’m no statistician, the 1400 children would account for about 5% of the total population of children in the age range indicated in the report. If the majority of these were girls as suggested, then we are perhaps looking at a full 10% of the 10-17 year old female population having suffered, not just now but long into the future. These figures are beyond horrific and suggest failings on a huge level across services and from the community itself. A perfect storm of failure of a huge percentage of Rotherham children.
We cannot get away from the personal failings of many organisations in Rotherham. It cannot be one or 2 police officers or social workers or teachers etc., but instead a failure of management and the whole system of children protection. We can easily, once more, get into the blame game and in certain incidents for those who knew and did nothing there should be significant consequences, but we now cannot and should not ignore the fact that child protective services in the UK remain patchy, uncoordinated and at best average. There is of course some excellent work that goes on but this is perhaps the exception rather than the norms. Certainly on the ground evidence suggests that no real positive change has happened and that services, management and policy are far from where they should be.
Consecutive governments have talked the talk about child protection and have rarely put their money or energies where their mouths are. Child protection remains at the bottom of a pile until the next great scandal. Then are the right things are said and, in general, not a great deal changes. This is not a matter of taking political sides but instead who cares. At the moment it appears that not enough really do until a scandal means they have to.
So why a perfect storm? What has come out in Rotherham is a microcosm of all that is concerning about child protection in the UK. The lack of political will and covering up of mistakes and failings, a management structure that prevents professionals protecting children properly, the process and organisation appear more important than the children, a lack of any preventative services, no real communication or resources for significant abuse rings, no responsibility for mistakes and decision making from management and politicians, a concern about political correctness, a community that was unwilling ir unable to be involved in child protection, whistleblowers censured, the de-professionalisation of expert child protection workers in favour of process and targets, underfunding and understaffing of ALL child protection services, family court reforms looking at targets and money and not children … i really could go on and on. Again I will say that their a good pockets of work but as a service nationally we have failed and continue to fail our children.
However in one area in particular there should be a very real concern that perhaps sums up the concerns. In Rotherham many of the victims were themselves either child in care or having just left care. Children who were particularly vulnerable where workers and services should have been there to continue to support and protect. The failing here reflect a very real problem with those children across the country and in particular the failings to support the most vulnerable into adulthood. Leaving care systems remain a little acknowledged national problem with 1000’s of children being placed in places of danger without proper support or funding.
What lessons to be learnt from Rotherham? To be honest people both inside children protection and the general public must be sick and tired of hearing this. Some lessons are always learnt from these scandals but in the end they continue to happen. There must now be a recognition that child protection has to change both in terms of systems and funding. There are so many disparate parts of it that disfunction is more likely that cohesion and effective protection. It is important that there is an acknowledgement that child protection is a place for everyone and not just the services that work on it everyday. That the community and the nation should be actively involved and feel that it is wholly right to make child protection a national priority and not a political football.
The lesson to learn from Rotherham is not where do we need to tinker at the edges or who is to blame but it should be how important are children to the country to the community and to start to design a service that does the best for them. Rotherham, the perfect storm of all that is wrong with child protection, should not be a lesson but the start of real change that shows us to be the society that puts children above everything else. This is not just a change for the child protection system but how we as a society value and protect our children. Unfortunately, at the present time, we cannot say we do anywhere near enough and therefore we wait for the next storm and the next ……