Reflections on the death of Daniel Pelka…

Daniel PelkaHere we go again!

The death of Daniel Pelka is one more in a line of tragedies. Between 50 and 60 children die each year in the UK at the hands of their parents or carers.

The ones that stand out are those where the circumstances are bizarre or show extreme cruelty, as in this case. Victoria Climbie, Peter Connolly and now, Daniel Pelka.

Once again, the aftermath leaves me feeling angry, puzzled and sickened . How could anyone-let alone a parent-be so cruel to a little child? How could the agencies involved miss the signs for so long that the child dies?

Professionals did not kill Daniel Pelka…

Those of us who work in children’s services and allied professions feel these losses acutely. And not just because the inevitable glare of media attention is once again upon us.

  • We grieve.
  • We grieve because we are human.
  • Because we have our own children.
  • Because, unlike most people, we have made caring for and protecting children our life’s work.

But most of all because we are human beings whose instinct is to protect the little ones. That’s why we get up in the morning.

It’s also why we lie awake at night. We worry. We ruminate-over and over-about decisions, deadlines, assessments; most of all about the children themselves. Have we done enough? Have we missed anything? What if…

The serious case review that follows the conviction of Daniel Pelka’s mother and stepfather, will examine the case in minute detail. This is as it should be. Failings should be highlighted. Systems and structures must be questioned. Where appropriate, culpability will be apportioned to those who fell short of their responsibilities. And rightly so.

Child protection – a poisoned chalice?…

That said, people should know that protecting children is a complex, challenging and personally costly task for those at the sharp end.

Consider how it might feel to knock on someone’s door and announce that you are visiting because concerns have been raised about the care of a child. Defensiveness doesn’t even come close to it. Questioning someone’s parenting is heavy stuff. It’s holy ground.

Families whose children are at risk of “significant harm” vary hugely. Some are desperately needy but don’t realise the need for help. Some dissociate from their responsibilities and are passively resistant or just go with the flow. Some are passively aggressive, avoiding all help, but never hostile.

Others are downright nasty; threatening, intimidating, aggressive and, on occasions, violent. Outside of the military and the police, how many jobs encounter these issues daily? Not many. It’s the helping professions who are tasked with weathering all this in order to protect the child at the centre. That’s our job. It’s what we get paid to do.

Don’t blame the good guys…

The problem is that society’s outrage at the cruel death of a young child far outweighs our empathy and appreciation for such dedicated professionals. We are blinded by our feelings. We want someone to blame. Most of all, we want someone to pay.

So, once again, the witch hunt has begun. Daniel has died. But he was not killed by the social workers, health visitors, police officers, teachers and others, who tried to protect him. Maybe they failed-for whatever reason-but they will feel the loss acutely. For some, their lives will never be the same again.

Final thought…

Daniel Pelka was killed by the adults charged with caring for him. By his mother and stepfather. We should remember this when the bandwagon of blame comes rolling by…

What do you think?…

This kind of news throws up all kinds of views. I fully realise many people may not agree with mine. So, please let me know what your thoughts are… Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

Where to go for support…

If you are worried about the safety of a child:

  • NSPCChelpline: 0808 800 5000   email: help@NSPCC.org.uk   Text: 88858

The following organisations offer free confidential advice if you’ve lost a child yourself or been affected by such a loss:

  • SamaritansHelpline: (UK) 08457 90 90 90   (ROI) 1850 60 90 90

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

JOIN THE CONVERSATION AND ADD YOUR COMMENTS!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Child safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility not just childcare professionals!

  • Shohreh Shadlou

    I am really empathetic for all those involved. All professionals including his teachers and school staff are also responsible ? Did they refer him for a disability assessment to confirm the dignoses? Did they request his parents to submit any evidence or report of his diagnoses ? This should have alerted his school teachers so they could take preventative measures. His was really a disabled pupil, they had the duty to offer assessments and any reasonable adjustments and care.

  • Shohreh Shadlou

    I am really empathetic for all those involved. All professionals including his teachers and school staff are also responsible ? Did they refer him for a disability assessment to confirm the dignoses? Did they request his parents to submit any evidence or report of his diagnoses ? This should have alerted his school teachers so they could take preventative measures. If he was really a disabled pupil, they had the duty to offer assessments and any reasonable adjustments and care. Did they do any risk assessments ?

    • I guess these are the the sorts of questions that the SCR will tease out, Shohreh. Every child death is an unmitigated tragedy; no doubt about it. But let’s not forget the 53,500+ kids who were successfully dealt with via the CP register or voluntary CP plans. At times of scrutiny and blaming-like now-it’s not a bad thing to remember our successes…

  • Chris Lewis

    Hi Jonny,
    I agree with all you say but there is no mention of how difficult it is to get cases through the court system now. I believe that very soon there will be a childs death whilst the family are going through the court system. This process is taking far to long and the thresholds are becoming more and more difficult to meet.
    We know from past experience, research and serious case reviews what to look for, to safeguard a child. Yet when we get to court the delays can be so long that the case might have had several different social workers, so things are inevitably going to be lost.

    • Hi Chris – the Court process is a real issue, as you say. In my view there seem to be two main issues: 1) the system imposes sometimes ridiculous delays, with all the associated problems that brings; and, 2) Local Authorities are working against a culture that still seeks (unduly in my view) to avoid removing children from families. It’s an old issue and one which evokes strong emotions all ’round. I guess working in a secure unit where we see the worst cases, means I tend a little more than most to be of the “get them out of there” opinion. I wonder whether it may get easier to remove children as research about the neurological impact of trauma becomes more widely known? Of course, separating children from their families imposes a whole new trauma of its own…

  • Corinne Delargy

    I start Uni this Sept as a mature student studying Social Work so I’m keen to read up on everyone’s thoughts on this. Shohreh high lighted what the teachers could have done (they may have we don’t know yet do we). Is there an established process of risk assessments/referring children to have their disabilities checked etc? Do all teachers have this training? If I were a teacher, I would have contacted a health visitor to get Daniel checked out/check records/visit parents. The parents must be visited during the evening if they can’t be contacted during the day.
    It such a big complex issue!