Belfast Telegraph

How dysfunctional families lead to the horror of the Baby P case

By Sharon Owens

Now, this week it has been impossible to ignore the tragic case of beautiful Baby P who died in August of last year.

As details of this terrible case emerge it has left most of us wondering exactly what is going on at Haringey Council.

For when whistleblower Nevres Kemal begged for improvements to the system in 2004, she herself was accused of common assault and placed under investigation by Social Services. In effect she could have had her own daughter taken into care. Nevres Kemal claims she was framed for contacting a doctor for help when managers ignored her concerns. She has now been fully exonerated and compensated for her ordeal but the questions remain.

Why was nothing done to rescue Baby P in 2007? Why did Haringey Council pay for a childminder to look after Baby P for 4 days a week to give his mother and her boyfriend ‘a break’? And why did Haringey Council also recommend that Baby P’s mother be allowed to keep a baby girl that was born to her while on remand for her son’s death? (The baby girl was later taken into care.)

Remember that other gorgeous, smiling little girl Victoria Climbie, who was brought to Britain by her aunt (and a boyfriend), allegedly in order to jump the housing queue in London? Young Victoria then died in appalling circumstances. Again, Haringey Council came under the spotlight for failing to protect a child in their borough.

Experts tell us that children living in dysfunctional circumstances are 33 times more likely to suffer abuse and neglect than children from, dare I say it, more stable homes. And that although abuse can happen anywhere, the facts prove it happens much more often in homes where troubled or violent visitors come and go, housework is left undone for months at a time, and extended family members are no longer in touch. Oh, this is nothing but the smug patter of snobs and stuck-up busybodies, some will say. And I used to say the same thing myself.

But look at the figures and an uncomfortable pattern emerges. Fathers who are less than devoted may become bored and bail out. Mothers left to cope alone may become depressed and socially isolated. Unruly children may grow up in gangs on street corners and then fail their school exams through a lack of adequate preparation. Faced with a lifetime on the dole these young people then attempt to form relationships of their own. Relationships that may flounder at the first hurdle. But not before a baby has been conceived and so the cycle begins again.

And before long the realisation dawns that this new child cannot be left lying in a cot for most of the day. No, this child needs constant attention and care, and clean clothing and regular meals. He needs playtime in the park and bedtime stories and help with his homework and new shoes every six months.

He needs love and encouragement and guidelines and boundaries. But what are the chances of the child getting such things if the mother herself didn’t get them? What are the chances of the child getting a decent start in life from a succession of aggressive boyfriends who feel no attachment whatsoever to him?

Of course, the vast majority of families, whether the parents are still together or not, (or whether they are working or unemployed), do their utmost to raise happy and healthy children. And even when the circumstances are seemingly perfect, children can and do go off the rails. But there are a number of damaged people in our society who have not the faintest idea of how to bring up a child. And therefore should not be left in charge of a child that is considered seriously ‘at risk’. Social Services must step in before another child dies of neglect or abuse or both.

Whistleblowers ought to be praised as heroes, not persecuted for rocking the boat. And perhaps, just perhaps, a child should be removed from a hostile home environment when a senior social worker with an excellent record (such as Nevres Kemal) thinks that they should. The current system is failing vulnerable children like Baby P, who had chocolate smeared across his face by his own mother to hide his many cuts and bruises. The gorgeous infant had his blonde hair shaved off, was severely underweight and had turned blue when he was finally found in a blood-spattered cot last August. We do not yet know the exact details of this tragic child’s background but the house itself was said to be in a desperate state, and police said the mother showed scant interest as her baby was rushed to A&E. Sadly, no amount of hand wringing can bring Baby P back to life and give him the love and care he was so cruelly denied during his short life. All we can do now is question the system that allowed Baby P’s mother to treat him as nothing but a nuisance while she spent her days ‘looking at rubbish on the internet’. Tougher sentences must be handed down by the courts, at the very least.

God bless Baby P. May the little angel now rest in peace.

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