MP calls for joined-up services, not demonisation of individual workers

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A BRADFORD MP has warned against any attempt to brush off the death of four-year-old Hamzah Khan as a “tragic accident”.

However, David Ward warned against the demonisation of individual social workers, health visitors and police officers and pointed to failures in the way information is shared as the major issue in child protection.

Hamzah Khan

Hamzah Khan

Before becoming the MP for Bradford East, Mr Ward was a councillor in the city and executive member for education for four years.

He is also a member of Education Select Committee which last year published a report recommending frontline staff should receive more training to help them spot signs of neglect in children and to understand the urgency of earlier intervention.

“Our starting point has to be that this should not happen, this child should still be alive, something has gone wrong and this isn’t a tragic accident. The child had a right to protection from a dreadful parent,” he said.

The death of Hamzah Khan is the latest in a string of heartbreaking cases where children have died through abuse or neglect by those supposed to be caring for them.

Mr Ward said evidence presented to the committee suggested that evidence about families can be pieced together to highlight where children are at risk of coming to serious harm.

Previous experience showed that failures on the part of individual professionals were rare and where children die in these circumstances it is often because no agency had a access to all the pieces of information needed to make the decision to intervene.

“What we often find from serious case reviews is that there has been a breakdown in communication between the agencies and when all the information is brought together it is very obvious what should happen.

“This won’t have been one social worker’s caseload, this will have been a social worker, a health worker and the police who would have had dozens of people on their caseload and for many of them it is like spinning plates. You are rushing around from one to the other hoping you get the balance right.

“There was a failure of the system as a whole.”

Mr Ward said it was important that lessons were learned from Hamzah Khan’s death but warned there would never be a system that could prevent all such tragedies.

He also highlighted the huge pressures facing those tasked with protecting children.

“For every one of these terribly tragic cases that we come across where children die in these circumstances there are a dozen others where social workers are being castigated for taking children into care away from their parents and it does seem that often social workers are between rock and a hard place and are criticised when they do and criticised when they don’t.

“People need to be aware that these cases are not one-offs, they are in every single community. Social workers are dealing with hundreds of them and having to make balanced judgments,” said Mr Ward.

“The mere fact that we can name these cases shows that thank God it doesn’t happen very often.

“These aren’t the only cases they will be dealing with, there will be dozens and dozens.”

The report Children First, published by the Education Select Committee after 12-month inquiry last year, made a series of recommendations to beef up the way children are protected.

It called on the Government to look again at how neglect is defined by law to make it easier to bring prosecutions.

The report also warned that child protection was too focused on “emergency incidents” rather than recognising long term patterns of neglect and abuse.

“There needs to be a continued shift in culture so that there is earlier protection and safeguarding of the long-term needs of the child,” it said.