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England's Children Vanish

November 17, 2008 permalink

British MP John Hemming is using freedom of information to get disclosure of English child deaths. The government has advised local authorities not to cooperate with him. We enclose a news item, and a letter that is part of Mr Hemming's effort.




In the aftermath of the death of Baby P whose plight was ignored by Haringey’s Social Services, Birmingham MP John Hemming claims the government is covering up similar incidents and is taking the “wrong children” into care.

Hemming, Chairman of the pressure group Justice for Families has tabled a commons motion calling for the government to reveal the list of deaths so it can be audited.

"I have been studying the reports of child deaths.", he said,

"I believe that local authorities in England have been taking the wrong children into care. This results in more children dying from abuse as there is a limit set in most authorities on the number of children in care. – this known as the gateway process.

"I have, therefore, started asking each of the Childrens’ Services Authorities to give me the list of children who have died where there is a ‘serious case review’.

“The government have, however, told the local authorities not to respond to my FoI request. This is, in fact, illegal. The government have no power to tell Local Authorities not to respond. However, that has not stopped them."

"They were a little late. Some authorities had already responded by the time the instruction went out. However, a number of authorities have still not responded. What I am finding is that there is a conflict between the numbers reported by government and those on the list.

“For example there is a report today that there were 189 Serious Case reviews following death between 2005 and 2007, but I have 211 cases on my list."

"I accept that there may be errors on my list. Northamptonshire have reported a massive number of Serious Case Reviews and we have gone back to them to ask them to check this. However, the government must produce their own list. This is the only way that we can be certain of what is happening."

"Alarm bells rang when I found that the government were telling local authorities to refuse to give me information. We cannot know the whole truth until they do."

"Non Accidential Injury deaths were running at around 50 per year in England in the early 1990s. Even the government admit that the figures have gone up. However, we need to know the full story. It is important to remember that Haringey were doing exactly what the government told them to do which is why they got three stars.

“The problems in Haringey are, however, replicated across the country."

Source: The Stirrer (UK), linked to by John Hemming

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.

Source: John Hemming blog for November 17, 2008