Sunday, March 15, 2009

Baby P, Child M and anonymity

Congratulations to the Mail on Sunday for printing details of the serious case review into Baby P's death. Haringey Council has refused to publish it, and Ed Balls has supported its decision on the grounds that doing so might deter people from investigating into similar cases in future.

These grounds sounds spurious. Social services staff are always telling us how professional they are, yet this argument is predicated on the assumption that they will not behave professionally when things go wrong. And if we adopt Ed Balls' logic then we will never publish the results of any inquiry into anything.

The re-emergence of this case has made me think about the increasing tendency to keep children's identities secret. Like a number of bloggers, I started giving Baby P the dignity of real name - Peter - when discussing the case and the sky did not fall.

Is it for the child's sake? Not always.

Last week Chicken Yoghurt discussed the case of Child M:

Child M and his family are facing deportation to Iran, where it is likely that his mother, sister and brother will be imprisoned and risk the death penalty if they are made to return. The family also spent 52 days in Yarl’s Wood immigration centre over the summer of 2008. This experience affected the whole family detrimentally. Child M suffered from violent nightmares, ringworm and his hair started to fall out.
If you were fighting a campaign to help Child M and his family stay in Britain, the first things you would want to publicise would be his name and a photograph. But it appears that the law prevents campaigners from doing this. So anonymity is certainly not in Child M's interests here. Rather, it looks calculated to protect the interests of the government.

And it could soon get worse.

Just before Christmas many journalists welcomed Jack Straw's decision to open up the family court system to journalists - see the UK Press Gazette report, for instance. But they missed the small print.

For, as the Independent on Sunday's Matthew Bell revealed:
as of April, because of a change in legislation being introduced by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary ... it will ... be illegal for any children currently in care to speak out, even if they feel they are being maltreated.
Clearly, we need to question whose interests the anonymity of children involved in legal proceedings serves. It is not always those of the children themselves.

1 comment:

Child M Campaign said...

The campaign to save Child M is at a critical stage. Visit for regular updates and appeals.

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