A new law placing a legal duty on social workers, doctors and school teachers to report child abuse would not have saved a four-year-old boy who was starved and then beaten to death by his mother and stepfather, ministers said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the case of Daniel Pelka, who was kept locked in a box room as a virtual prisoner, fed salt and routinely beaten, was "absolutely heartbreaking", but he questioned whether more legislation was the solution.
"If it's the only way we can prevent this tragedy happening to other children, then of course we will consider it," he told BBC News. "But my sense is that it's also just about making sure that if a teacher spots that a child is scavenging for food, if a social worker feels there's something amiss in a family, if the local authorities feel that there's something, that they talk to each other.The problem in this and other previous tragic cases is this sense that individuals can fall between the cracks of the responsibilities of different agencies and public services. That's something I really do think we need to deal with."
Children and families minister Edward Timpson added mandatory reporting was "not the answer" to providing better protection for children against physical and emotional abuse and neglect.
Daniel, from Coventry, died from a head injury in March last year after suffering months of cruelty and emotional abuse at the hands of Magdelena Luczak and former soldier Mariusz Krezolek. The pair, both originally from Poland, were jailed for a minimum of 30 years each after a trial at Birmingham Crown Court earlier this year.
A serious case review found Daniel was at times rendered "invisible" in the eyes of health professionals, school staff and social workers in the presence of controlling Luczak and her partner Krezolek, who "misled and deceived" a host of child protection agencies by spinning a "web of lies" to conceal systematic abuse of the boy. The report also highlighted the fact that Daniel was never individually spoken to about his home life, without his mother or stepfather present.
During their trial at Birmingham Crown Court, the jury heard how on one occasion his mother held his head under water in the bath. At school he was so hungry he stole food from other children's lunch boxes and hunted for scraps in bins, with teachers concerned he was "wasting away".
Police were called to the family home 27 times between 2006 and 2011, because of repeated problems of domestic violence between Luczak and three male partners - including Krezolek, yet despite referrals to child protection officers Daniel's welfare was never followed up in detail.Despite seeing doctors, nurses, community paediatric workers, social workers and teaching staff, the report found that at no point was a "holistic approach" taken to the injuries and ailments he was presenting with, and the warning signs pointing to his abuse were missed.
The review by Coventry Safeguarding Children Board published 15 recommendations aimed at preventing such failures, after detailing how social services, teachers, police and medical professionals all came into contact with Daniel but failed to see a pattern of systematic abuse.
Separately, a petition calling for all those working with children to be under a mandatory responsibility to report any suspicion of child abuse - known as "Daniel's Law" - has attracted 50,000 signatures, and was handed to 10 Downing Street on Monday ahead of the report's publication. Paula Barrow, a mother of two from Manchester who set up the online petition on the website change.org, said legislation "will not only help children in distress, but it will also help staff to report abuse without hesitation or fear of reprisal".