Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The history of child abuse inquiries

The other day, while discussing the death of Baby P (can't we all, like Heresy Corner, call him Peter now?) I wrote:
Ed Balls has now announced yet another enquiry, but such enquiries have had remarkably similar findings going right back to the death of Dennis O'Neill in 1945.
The extent to which the death of Dennis O'Neill and the events that followed it set the pattern for later deaths and inquiries can be seen from this article on the Community Care site:

Sir Walter Monckton’s one-man, four day inquiry opened on 10 April 1945. He found that the Goughs had been selected “without adequate inquiry being made as to their suitability” and that “there had been a serious lack of supervision by the local authority”.

Shropshire Council’s public assistance officer had informed Newport officers that he was “unable to see his way clear to arrange supervision of your cases” because Newport was paying the Goughs a higher boarding out allowance (fostering fees) than Shropshire’s rates. “Disparities of this kind had caused trouble in the past. It was not a question of saving money but of avoiding friction with foster-parents,” the inquiry said.

On 20 December 1944, a clerk from Newport, a Miss EM Edwards, was in Shropshire to discuss the payments dispute. While there she was asked to visit the boys, although the inquiry found she “had little experience to qualify her to undertake a visit to supervise the children in their foster home”. Nonetheless, she knew things were not right.

In her report she recommended the “immediate removal” of the boys and commented that she “several times impressed upon Mrs Gough the necessity of calling in a doctor for Dennis”. Neither authority responded with any urgency. In Shropshire, the report was put aside for an officer to deal with “on his return from annual leave on the 10 January” – Dennis died on 9 January.

The issues that contributed to his death – poor record-keeping and filing, unsuitable appointments, lack of partnership working, resource concerns, failing to act on warning signs, weak supervision and “a lamentable failure of communication” – were not buried with Dennis O’Neill. These failings were to feature regularly in inquiries held into the death or abuse of children in care for the next 60 years – up to and including that of eight-year-old Victoria ClimbiĆ©.

The death of Maria Colwell in 1973 is always mentioned when there is a new child abuse scandal involving a local authority. The death of Dennis O'Neill seems to have been forgotten. I came across it by chance myself because of my Shropshire fixation.

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