The appalling abuse and murder of Victoria Climbie brought to light the state of Child Protection in the country. The public enquiry headed by Lord Laming identified institutional failings across the board. The outcome of this enquiry had played a big role in the conception and implementation of Every Child Matters program. Climbie was a nine year old immigrant student, who was sent to Europe by her parents. Little did they know then that their young daughter was to go through despicable abuse and violation at the hands of her so-called “care-takers”. Climbie’s aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her bus-driver boyfriend Carl Manning were both charged under child protection law. The trial lasted nearly a year and ultimately found both of them guilty. Even though the guilty couple were handed life imprisonment, the injustice done to the young girl cannot ever be compensated. This episode will remain one of the black marks on British child protection history. The sad demise of Victoria Climbie exposed the abject failings of the British Child Protection system. The fact that no less than 12 opportunities to save Victoria’s life were squandered by various public institutions had asked many difficult questions of these agencies. Only time will tell if the Every Child Matters program proves substantive in dealing with such issues head on.
“From past inquiries into the deaths of Maria Colwell and Jasmine Beckford to recent cases such as Lauren Wright and Ainlee Walker, there are striking similarities which show some of the problems are of long standing. The common threads which led in each case to a failure to intervene early enough were poor co-ordination; a failure to share information; the absence of anyone with a strong sense of accountability; and frontline workers trying to cope with staff vacancies, poor management and a lack of effective training.” (The Victoria Climbie Inquity Report of 2003)
The most tragic of these problems is when the agencies fail to protect children who are at risk of neglect and abuse. But the problem of children becoming victims of the loopholes provided by our judicial system goes much further. Too often children experience difficulties at both home and educational institutions, but receive too little help too late. Most get noticed only when problems have reached crisis point.
“As Lord Laming’s recommendations made clear, child protection cannot be separated from policies to improve children’s lives as a whole. We need to focus both on the universal services which every child uses and on more targeted services for those with additional needs. The policies set out in the Green Paper are designed both to protect children and maximise their potential. It sets out a framework for services that cover children and young people from birth to 19 living in England. It aims to reduce the numbers of children who experience educational failure, engage in offending or anti-social behaviour, suffer from ill health, or become teenage parents”. (Green Paper of 2003)
The pressure on the Labour government to design and implement a comprehensive child protection program as Every Child Matters goes on to show that previous legislations in this domain have remained ineffective. For example, when The Children Act was passed in 1989, it was hoped that some of the basic rights of children will be safer than ever before. But statistics through out the 90’s prove the failure of this piece of legislation in curbing offences against children. Although the Children Act was a detailed piece of legislature touching upon all aspects of child welfare, it had also left many loop holes to be exploited. One of the proposals under the Act is bringing public and private sector childcare agencies under one authority so as to that it is easier to hold the agencies responsible for their failings. But as is the bane of most industrial countries, the powerful and resourceful business lobby had done its utmost against such integration, for such a move is not in its best interests. Thus, profits of privately run business corporations have won over the collective welfare of children in British society.
One of the aims of the Act was to shake up the framework of the courts in order to facilitate easier management of family proceedings. Even in this, no substantial change is apparent. Hence, it will not be an exaggeration to assert that Every Child Matters program would not be needed if the Children Act was implemented and enforced in the right spirit. (Children Act of 1989)
It is interesting to note that the Every Child Matters program does not make special provisions for backward ethnic groups. The secular foundations of British legislature means that it will be impossible for policy makers to devote special attention to groups based on race and ethnicity. This is one area where the program is bound to fail. Any comprehensive Child Protection scheme that pays scant attention to significant risk factors is setting itself up for failure. For instance, the socio-economic condition during childhood plays an important role in determining how successful the child will be in the future. But in a society where the gap between the rich and the poor is ever widening and poverty levels have remained stagnant over a long period, any changes in the form of policies will remain superficial unless radical reforms are undertaken to change the very fabric of society and make it a more egalitarian one.
Key publications related to Every Child Matters from www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/publications/, retrieved on 4th July, 2007.