John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Monday, November 17, 2008
  Serious Case Reviews: Government attempts to cover up lists of child deaths
The link is to a story on "The Stirrer" based upon a press release I sent out over the weekend.

The following is the text of an email I have just sent to the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee:

Dear Barry

I am writing to you as Chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee as you may wish to review the matter of Serious Case Reviews.

You will be aware that where a child dies or is seriously injured as a result of child abuse that a Serious Case Review is instigated. There is an important question as to whether these reviews achieve their objective of informing practise. However, these reviews are being carried out.

I have been concerned for some time as to the decision making process in respect of Public Family Law. It is my belief that substantial numbers of falst positives and false negatives occur - I believe that this arises as a consequence of the lack of accountability in the system which is caused by threat of contempt proceedings in the Family Division. However, that is not relevant to this email.

You will be aware that many local authorities operate a management gateway system for care proceedings. This enables budgets to be controlled. Often such a system will operate on the basis of "one in" "one out" or some similar structure.

This has the tendency of establishing a cap on numbers in care and frequently local authorities create their own target numbers for the purpose of budgetary control.

As a consequence of this any system which facilitates children being wrongly taken into care will also and as a consequence create a situation where those who need to be taken into care are prevented from being taken into care by the management gateway. The abolition of BV163/PAF C23 (the adoption targets) will, of course, reduce the number of wrongful removals, but the problems built into the decisionmaking system remain.

I have, therefore, been studying the question of deaths from child abuse in England (note that the Scottish system is very different and does not have as many problems - although it is not perfect) as the English system.

It is relatively difficult to make international comparisons as the systems for monitoring child abuse vary from country to country. However, I have been working on the question of the deaths of children which result in a Serious Case Review. I have selected this threshold as it is a clear threshold that allows tracking of numbers.

I have found DCSF unwilling to provide information for audit purposes although they will provide some statistical summaries. I have, therefore, approached the local authorities and Safeguarding Committees in England and asked them for an anonymous list of Serious Case Reviews consequent to the death of a child.

Some authorities have complied. Sadly DCSF sent around an instruction to local authorities to tell them not to comply with my request for information. I am now taking this through the Freedom of Information Appeals process.

I am suggesting to your committee that it may be worth the authority of the committee being used to obtain a list of serious case reviews from local authorities. The provisional information I have indicates that DCSF are understating the numbers. This is an important question as one of the objectives of the child protection system has to be to reduce the number of deaths from abuse. If, therefore, numbers are going up it raises a question as to whether the recent changes are exacerbating problems inherently within the system - which I believe they are.

I attach two files. One is a few examples of how local authorities have been responding in a manner instructed by DCSF plus the DCSF summary figures. The second is my working list of serious case reviews from 2005 onwards.

There are other questions about Serious Case Reviews as to who should perform them and to what extent they should be open to external scrutiny However, I believe that starting with reliable figures as to the numbers is a good foundation.

I would be happy to talk to the committee about these things. I did offer earlier this year to provide evidence of the failings of the system, but the secretariat indicated that I would not be an appropriate witness.
 
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