A face & a nameAugust 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Is she as you imagined her? The slackened jaw; the furrowed brow; the baffled, vacant expression. Does she fit the image you had of the callous, ‘sex-obsessed slob‘ who puffed smoke, glugged booze and watched porn whilst her boyfriend & lodger tortured her son to death?
Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter. It won’t bring Peter Connelly back, won’t prevent further abuses from happening, won’t stop other helpless little boys & girls from being murdered by the people in their care. All it satisfies is some short-lived curiosity for a face & a name.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t still relevant, important questions to be asked two years after this child’s death. Has Haringey Council improved its provision and oversight of social services so that evidence of abuse is acted upon quickly & decisively? Have other councils assessed their own departments to ensure a similar tragedy couldn’t occur? Are we confident that we’re able to provide enough support for victims of abuse to help them avoid inflicting similar cruelties on their own families?
Another important question, posed here by Sandra Laville, is why the death of Peter Connelly caused such a tremendous expression of anger, but similar deaths by abusive parents have not. Laville highlights the three-year-old Tiffany Wright, who was starved to death by her mother and left in a filthy, beetle-infested bedroom for three days. Then there was the case of Amy Howson, a 16-month-old girl whose father inflicted several limb fractures, gave her a serious head wound and broke her spine in two places. Sure, both of these cases were reported by the local & national media, but they passed by very quietly compared to the weeks of high-profile coverage from Haringey. Since Baby Peter’s death, there have been 30 other cases of children dying from abuse. I bet you can’t name 5 of them.
So how do we explain this inconsistency? Was it because the child was first known only by his initial, and that the shortening of his name seemed to symbolise the neglect & horror visited upon him? Was it because this death happened in London, and it was easier for the media to amass outside Haringey council than it was Sheffield or Doncaster? Was it because we need to believe that such abuses are singular abberations and don’t want to consider that they’re more frequent? Or was it just a quirk of the news cycle and the coverage of his death would’ve been the same as these other tragedies had different events been dominating the news? You’ll notice that there are far more questions here than I’m willing to answer.
Also left outstanding is the direction the country’s social services will take in the coming years. The ferocity of the reaction to the ‘Baby P’ case had both positive & negative aspects. On the positive side, we could see some sensible reporting around the case, and there were serious questions asked by dedicated journalists & public servants which helped improve our understanding of social work in Haringey and beyond. In addition, the case clearly demonstrated failures in management, and the public outcry meant that the pressure for reform and accountability was irresistible.
However, it also mutated into one of the most unpleasant media witch hunts we’ve seen in recent years, with blame being tossed in every direction and these overwhelmingly dedicated, over-worked and under-paid social workers being held personally responsible for failures which were not entirely their own.
After the murder of Victoria Climbie caused a similar outcry back in 2000, the government responded by introducing Every Child Matters – a well-meaning initiative which culminated in the 2004 Children Act and has had some positive effects. However, when this was implemented by the social services, it lead to what some have called an ‘audit culture‘, creating more bureacracy at the expense of actually going out and doing casework. Social workers were complaining about the extent of this bureacracy even before baby Peter met his death, with CommunityCare reporting that a third spent 60% of their working days doing administration. The task for the government faces is figuring out how to free these people from their desks whilst improving management and accountability, and how they do that remains to be seen.
So yes, there’s still much to discuss about the death of this tragic child – many unanswered questions, plenty of unresolved debates. In comparison, finding out the identities of his killers seems pretty small fry.