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“Two thirds of children who died of abuse in 2012 could have been saved”

An examination of this very shocking claim from the Children’s Rights Alliance for England report, and discussion of the report itself.

This is a very interesting report, with very weighty contributors. The report is scathing and coruscating of the way that Children’s Rights and issues affecting children is dealt with in the UK, particularly by the Government. I found the tone a bit polemical and overtly political, but there is no doubt that the authors care passionately about children’s welfare and are extremely angry and fearful about the failings they identify.

If you are worried about where we are currently going as a nation, or care passionately about the nation’s children, this report is a must-read. (I did find it too overtly Tory-bashing, but it is still for all of its political slants a meaningful and strong document)

The report is here:-

Here are some of the headline points they open with, and they are shocking.

• Forty-eight children died as a result of ‘deliberately inflicted injury, abuse or neglect’ in 2011-12. Sixty-five per cent of these deaths were ‘modifiable’ – there were factors involved in the death indicating that achievable steps could be taken to reduce the risk of future deaths.

• Between April 2009 and April 2010, Tasers were used on under-18s a total of 144 times. In the previous 12 month period Tasers were used on children 102 times – an increase of 41%.

• Thirty-three children have died in custody in England and Wales since 1990. In January 2012, two children died within a week.

• Official statistics published in November 2012 reported that the number of children going missing from foster care had increased by 19% in the previous year.

• More than 3,000 foster children are estimated to have gone missing in the year up to March 2012. As of 31 March 2012 there were a reported 1% still missing from care.

• In 2011 only 13.9% of children in care achieved good GCSE grades (A* to C) in both English and mathematics, compared to 58.6% of their peers. The attainment gap has risen from 37.2 in 2007 to 44.7 in 2011.

• When they visit a looked after child, social workers are required to speak to the child in private, but only 39% of children say that this happens on every visit, and 5% of children said that this never happens.

• Official figures published in November 2012 revealed that of 6,610 care leavers aged 19, 36% (2,390) were not in education, employment or training. This percentage is at its highest since 2008 (when it was 24%).

Action for Children’s analysis of the impact of Government spending decisions on vulnerable children and families found that family support services have been significantly affected by cuts to local authority spending. Out of 48 family support managers questioned:

• 13% of managers had seen a decrease in the number of hours that staff were able to spend with families and children in the last 12 months;

• More than a quarter of managers (27%) reported a decrease in funding. 4% of services reported a budget increase;

 • 44% of managers reported that the number of new referrals is rising, compared to the previous six months;

• According to almost two-thirds (62%) of the managers, families are facing increasingly severe problems

I was staggered to read here that this country is Tasering children. I knew that the number of children who die from abuse each year is roughly one a week, so 48 is obviously tragic and shocking though not surprising to me. The claim that 65% were ‘modifiable’ is probably what is going to be reported in the papers in lines with the headline I have used for this piece.

Let’s have a look at the specific bits in the report on this:-

Statutory guidance sets out the procedures to be followed when a child dies.

Two processes are conducted to review child deaths.

A rapid response by key professionals is undertaken to investigate each individual unexpected death of a child.

A Child Death Overview Panel will also conduct an overview of all child deaths in the area covered by the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). Either of these processes can trigger a Serious Case Review.

Child death review processes became mandatory in April 2008, though LSCBs have been able to implement these functions since April 2006.

There were 4,012 child death reviews in the year ending 31 March 2012. This is slightly lower than the number of reviews carried out in the previous year.

Official data shows that there were 784 ‘modifiable’ deaths in England in 2011-12. A modifiable death is the official term given to a death where one or more factors could be modified (changed) to reduce the risk of future child deaths. (This is the same proportion as the previous year – 20% of the total number of child deaths reviewed)

The age breakdown of the 784 ‘modifiable’ deaths is as follows:

• Newborns under the age of 27 days accounted for 45% of modifiable child deaths (an increase of 12% on the previous year)

• Infants aged between 28 and 364 days accounted for 21% of modifiable child deaths

• Children aged between 1 and 4 years accounted for 12% of modifiable child deaths

• Children aged between 15 and 17 years accounted for 9% of modifiable child deaths

• Children aged between 10 and 14 accounted for 7% of modifiable child deaths

• Children aged between 5 and 9 years accounted for 6% of modifiable child deaths.

Older children who died aged 15-17 years were more likely to have modifiable factors identified in their deaths, with 32% of this age group having modifiable factors identified, compared to 18% of children aged under one-year.

Of the 43 children that died in England in 2011-12 as a result of deliberately inflicted injury, abuse or neglect over half (28) were deemed to have modifiable factors.

Six per cent (45) of the 784 children who died where modifiable factors were identified were, or had been, subject to a child protection plan at the time of death; and 50 of the 784 children were or had been subject to a statutory order at the time of death.

The EHRC’s Human Rights Review states that local authority mechanisms for investigating and learning from serious cases of ill-treatment may be ‘insufficient’. The Review reiterates the concerns expressed in the Munro Review that serious case reviews are failing to identify the core issues that prevent child protection professionals from protecting children. In addition, the EHRC concludes that agencies often fail to work together effectively to prevent the ill-treatment of children.

The report notes that in child protection cases there is often a blurring of boundaries between different agencies. This lack of communication means that at-risk children can fall through the gaps.

So the 781 child deaths that were reviewed covered a wide range of causes, and it is the 48 who died from abuse that the report is focussing on. I see no reason to dispute that the figures about whether the deaths were ‘modifiable’ are accurate figures and that the decision as to whether they were ‘modifiable’ (or preventable, in plain English) are accurately taken from the investigation into those deaths.

That is a shocking figure. Not least given that we have all been working under the shadow of Baby P for over four years now, with numbers of care proceedings having gone up nearly 50% over that time.

There is an argument that somewhere along the line since Baby P, perhaps explicitly, perhaps in an underlying and unconscious trend, that the nation has moved in child protection terms quite far along the “child rescue” side of the scale rather than “family preservation” and that underpinning that is the understandable desire amongst social workers, and maybe even Courts not to have another tragedy like Baby P, and that perhaps, buried deep under that is the notion that separating more families is a price worth paying to avoid that.

But we don’t seem to have reduced the numbers of child deaths caused by abuse (at least not appreciably) and this report is decent evidence to suggest that even in the most hyper aware culture of ‘child rescue’ we have had in this country, 28 children died of abuse where this could have been avoided.

If there has been a lurch down the ‘child rescue’ side of the scale, as some commentators suggest, has that actually had any positive benefits for the children of the UK compared to the negative aspects of the system not properly balancing ‘family preservation’?

As I was recently suggesting in my post about Baby P, unless you become as a society so risk averse that any sniff of risk results in removal of children, you can’t necessarily tell which children who are at risk will fall into that dreadful bracket.

It all seems terribly inevitable, when you do what the Press does and work backwards from the death to look at the history.

I’d suggest that this is a media fallacy – yes, if you start from the death and look at all of the concerns the outcome seems terribly inevitable, just as if you only interview people who have WON the national lottery you would establish that buying a lottery ticket inevitably leads to winning the lottery.

You need to be aware of how many people buy tickets and don’t have any life-changing event, to have any idea as to whether buying a lottery ticket is likely to lead to you winning the lottery.

Unless you look at the pool of children who have those sorts of pattern of concerns and bruises and worries who end up being able to be safely managed at home, which of course nobody ever does, you don’t get an accurate picture of what risks, if any, do inevitably lead to child deaths, and which are just professionals weighing up the interest of keeping a family together and managing risk against ‘safety first’ and breaking up a family, and who with the magical benefit of hindsight maybe got that balance wrong with tragic consequences.

A thought-provoking report. Worth a read.

About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

12 responses

  1. NSPCC figures show that the “baby P factor” is a myth !
    Children subject to a child protection plan were as follows:-
    IN 2007 Physical abuse 3500 and Emotional abuse 7100 out of a total 27900
    In 2011 Physical abuse 4500(28%increase) Emotional abuse12100(70%increase)on 42700
    As a percentage of the totals the percentage for physical abuse has actually declined from12.5% to 10.5% but emotional abuse has actually increased from 25.4% to 28.3% !
    Clearly “emotional abuse” is the “buzzword” for social workers eager to put children at the greatest risk they can suffer by putting them (with the help of compliant judges) into the “UK care system “!

    • There’s not really a direct relationship between children on a child protection plan and the number of care proceedings, and a child being put on a child protection plan for emotional abuse doesn’t mean that the child was ever taken into care, let alone for emotional abuse. They are two entirely different things.

      • A Child Protection Plan usually leads to care so it is not likely that the proportions would vary greatly;Also the views of ” Anthony Douglas” quoted by Patrick Butler below echo the opinions of others who realise that Baby P had no effect numbers taken for physical abus since emotional abuse is so difficult to deny because everyone abuses others emotionally from time to time as part of normal living.

        Another view is expressed by the Guardian’s Patrick Butler who considers the “Baby P effect”, but he also echoes Douglas’ point about the reasons children go back into care:

        Most children who go into care do so as a result of concerns that they are being neglected, not that they are at risk of physical violence or sexual abuse. The increase in applications, say professionals, reflects a greater appreciation of the impact on children of parental neglect, emotional abuse and domestic violence.

      • I’m not sure I am as persuaded that Antony Douglas is a guru as you are, but we’ll agree, as usual, to disagree.

  2. RE: “buried deep under that is the notion that separating more families is a price worth paying to avoid that”

    My cynical self is tempted to add: “and buried even deeper in the minds of the holders of this notion is the confidence that whenever families are to be separated (to eliminate all risk), it will be families of those other people, not the families like ours”.

    • Hundreds of trafficked children are disappearing from the care system
      Government and social services departments are accused of failing to protect victims
      Mark Townsend, The Guardian, Saturday 28 May 2011

      Hundreds of children who have been trafficked into the UK are disappearing each year from the care system, amid allegations that government and local authorities are failing to protect them.

      The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a government agency, estimates that at least 300 juveniles identified as trafficked have disappeared from local authority care over the past three years.

      One of the biggest risks a child can take is to go into care.

    • Tragically, I think that you are right. It is noticeable, within the profession that when a “middle class” family find themselves up before a family Court suspected of physical abuse, the findings are very rarely made, and there’s an unspoken presumption that people ‘like us’ don’t do that sort of thing, which is of course nonsense.

  3. Probably a higher proportion of children die in care than those living with parents

    • Well, we have the figures there for the children who died of abuse whilst living with parents, which is nearly one a week, and the law is that the Local Authority who are responsible for a child in care have to notify the Government for any child who dies in their care, so the statistics would be there to be found. In nineteen years of care work, I have had direct knowledge of only one child who was subject to an Interim Care Order die, and he was a young boy living with a grandmother who wandered downstairs at night got into a garden and drowned in a pond. Horrendously tragic and awful.

      If your suspicion is right and a child a week, or more, dies in Local Authority care, I’d suggest to you that the national press would be very interested and you’d have a good Loical Authority-bashing story for them. IF the numbers bear out your suspicion.

      • ——————————————————————————–

        PROPORTIONALLY more die in care taking into account the fact that the total number of children living with parents vastly outnumbers the 80,000 odd in care………

        How many looked after children die or are seriously injured? (NSPCC FIGURES)

        The most recent biennial analysis for England doesn’t have a figure for looked after children, although it does have one for the number of children who were not living at home at the time of the incident. This includes cases when children were in hospital or mother and baby units so is not directly comparable with earlier figures.

        •An analysis of serious case reviews in England from 2009-11 show that 13% of incidents took place whilst the child was not living at home or with relatives.
        Source: Brandon, Marian, Sidebotham, Peter, Bailey, Sue and Belderson, Pippa, Hawley, Carol, Ellis, Catherine and Megson, Matthew (2012) New learning from serious case reviews: a two year report for 2009-2011 (PDF). London: Department for Education (DFE).
        •An analysis of 56 significant case reviews in Scotland since 2007 identified 11 cases (20%) relating to children who were or had been looked after.
        Source: Vincent, S. and Petch, A (2012) Audit and analysis of initial and significant case reviews (PDF). Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.
        •An analysis of serious case reviews in England show that 10% (2003-05) and 13% (2005-07) relate to a child in care.
        Sources: Brandon, Marian, Bailey, Sue and Belderson, Pippa (2010) Building on the learning from serious case reviews: a two-year analysis of child protection database notifications 2007-2009 (PDF) . London: Department of Education.

        Brandon, Marian, Bailey, Sue, Belderson, Pippa, Gardner, Ruth, Sidebotham, Peter, Dodsworth, Jane, Warren, Catherine and Black, Jane (2009) Understanding serious case reviews and their impact: a biennial analysis of serious case reviews 2005-2007 (PDF) . [London]: Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

        •There have been 33 child deaths in youth custody since 1990.
        Source: Inquest (2012) Child deaths in penal custody (England and Wales) 1990-date (PDF). London: Inquest

      • I don’t think you can legitimately bring child deaths in penal custody into the formulation, when your assertion was that more children die in care than with their families. Your other point, about whether PROPORTIONATELY more children might die in care than with their families, is potentially a legitimate one, if there were numbers to back it up.

        I had a look for the statistics – the DFE don’t make them easy to find (which is a huge understatement), but the Local Children Safeguarding Board for each area has to do a review of child deaths in their area and this table'Table M’!A1

        sets out the location where the child death occurred. This one is for 2011 and show that none occurred in foster care.

        And this is the 2012 figures, again 0 child deaths in foster care'Table L’!A1

        And I went back still further, and just to show I am being fair, the 2010 tables do show 10 deaths in foster homes, each of which was assessed as not preventable'Table I ‘!A1

        I wouldn’t pretend for a second that care is a glowing palace of wonderful happiness, it is not what one would wish for any child, and bad things, awful dreadful things happen to some children in care. I wouldn’t try to sugar coat that. But I think sweeping statements like probably more children die in care than with their parents is just not true.

  4. The figures for youth custody come at the end of the stats.Read the rest of the NSPCC figures referring to 13% of the total “serious incidents”in England and 20% in Scotland !

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