Children increasingly face neglect amid failing national systems
Zimran Samuel (Barrister, 42 Bedford Row) and Naima Asif (Family Duty Adviser)
The neglect and subsequent death of 4 year old Hamzah Khan is a sad reminder of the importance of a multi-agency interventionist approach to child protection. Hamzah's body was found in his Bradford home in 2011, almost two years after he died. His mother Amanda Hutton was recently jailed for 15 years after being found guilty of manslaughter.
The government has strongly criticised the recent inquiry into Hamzah's death. Children's Minister Edward Timpson said that Hamzah had been let down by national systems. What is clear is that multiple agencies failed to intervene in Hamzah's case despite plenty of opportunities to do so.
However, what the government has failed to explain is how national systems will continue to cope in the wake of increasing cuts to children's services, the police and to legal aid. A survey of 600 child protection professionals by Community Care, demonstrates that those on the frontline of child protection simply do not feel that they have enough support and resources to prevent a child-at-risk in their area from coming to serious harm. 78% of those polled said that the threshold needed to get help for a child suffering from neglect had increased. 71% blamed local authority budget cuts.
Yet the evidence is that investment rather than cuts in child protection is needed now perhaps more than ever. There are approximately 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK today. A recent report published by the London School of Economics and the children's charity Kids Company has revealed alarming statistics about the lives of some of London's children. The report makes a comparison between children growing up in parts of London to those of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Kids Company assisted 36,000 children in 2012. Half of these children had been deprived of bare necessities such as proper meals, towels, clothes and a place to sleep. Many of the children did not feel safe in their own home. The study found that 49% experienced significant trauma at home including witnessing domestic violence between their parents. Psychologist and Principal Investigator Professor Jovchelovitch states "overt conflict and aggression, deficient nurturing and violent relationships can damage physical and mental health, laying the ground for long-term, lasting vulnerabilities and problems. The cycle of violence in the lives of children is a major threat not only for children but also to the future of healthy societies".
It is plain that a large proportion of children today are suffering because of the environment they live in and the increasing cuts to the services that are designed to protect them. Moreover, the withdrawal of legal aid from private children law disputes has further isolated many families from professional oversight. At the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, Enver Solomon from the Children's Society said, "it is difficult not to conclude that these reforms are driven by a simple desire to save money and do not take into account the best interests of children. It is particularly shocking that there has been no desire to differentiate between children and adults... It is difficult to see how the legal aid reforms are in any way UNCRC compliant".
The preventable death of Hamzah Khan is a sad reminder of the crucial role of national child protection services. The reality remains that cuts across the spectrum of child protection agencies will continue to affect the most marginalised families and the most vulnerable children.
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