More Collateral Damage – the results of knowingly under-investing in child protection.

With news this week of the horrific abuse and death of 2 year old Liam, a child known to children’s services in Fife Scotland, we yet again quickly hear a request for calm until after a serious case review, already ordered by the local safeguarding board. However we already know that there appear to have been catastrophic failings of protection that led to his death.  According to the local authority Liam “fell off the radar” after his social worker went off sick and further chances seem to have missed when a child minder and neighbour reported concerns.

Liam’s name has been added to list of children who protective services were unable to save.  Like Baby P, Daniel Pelka and even more recently Alexa-Marie Quinn, there appears to have been every opportunity to save Liam’s life but systemic failings, and perhaps individual mistakes, prevented that.  Already we have a case review and no doubt more of a review of procedure. Although there is some use in these reviews there is almost entirely nothing new that will be learnt that has already be pointed out in either previous individual case reviews of more holistic reviews of child protection systems.

Right now if we were to ask social workers to name 5 things that make their job difficult, cause anxiety about their work and ultimately put children’s lives at risk, we would likely to see the same issues appear that appear 5,10 maybe 15 years ago but perhaps even worse. Lack of staff, high case loads, lack of prevention work for families and children, the excessive tick box paperwork and lastly the lack of any cross area cross service communication has remained right up there for the causes of the lack of prevention of abuse to children.  Yet, at best, little is done.  Perhaps some minor peripheral changes but certainly not real change with real money attached.  So why on earth would we expect any real change.  The answer is we shouldn’t and therefore come to expect more Liams, Daniels, Alexa-Maries to be added to the list of children let down not just by social services but by the whole of society.

Nobody comes into child protection to do a bad job and the vast majority do a good job under the most taxing of circumstances. The protection of our children is neither easy or cheap.  It is a complex and expensive business where policy and management are so often looking for the quick and cheap fix. This is why mistakes are made. Child Protection is undertaken in a fragmented, under funded and anxious environment where the average career length of a child protection social worker is 8 years.  That is just enough time to start feeling confident in your work not giving up your career.  So we then add to failings the lack of suitably experienced staff where “Senior Social Workers” can be as little as 2 years qualified.  The leaching of experienced staff from the service leave huge holes in the knowledge base and the ability of staff to protect children in a thoughtful way.

Until our politicians, policy makers and us as the wider society say that our children mean everything, that they are more important to our future than we could possibly know, that they are worth investing in, then Liam and those like him must be seen as collateral damage for the knowing under investment in child protection both in terms of money and real policy/systemic changes. Perhaps its finally time for those serious about the protection of children to say enough is enough and that the lives of Liam and the many other children who suffer unnecessarily to be seen with the utmost importance.