Change the law to better protect vulnerable children like Daniel Pelka
This four-year-old child was starved and beaten over a period of months, before his death at the hands of his mother and step-father. The evidence of his suffering was in full view of staff at his school, who observed his desperate attempts to forage for food and his severe weight-loss, along with multiple visible injuries including black eyes, broken bones and strangulation marks.
As a mother of two young children, I am deeply affected by Daniel's story and extremely concerned that many of the circumstances surrounding his death are all too reminiscent of other appalling cases of child abuse over recent years. Once again, we learn how staff with a professional 'duty of care' for the safety and wellbeing of a vulnerable child failed to take the necessary action to save his life.
Daniel’s case highlights the urgent need for new legislation requiring the mandatory reporting of child abuse for people who work with children, as already exists in many other countries - as of 2012, there were mandatory reporting laws in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, Sweden and USA to name but a few. Everyone needs to understand this critical hole in our law - there is currently no legal requirement of anyone working with children to report suspected or known abuse to either the appropriate local authority officer (the LADO) or to the police. Although child abuse is of course a crime, reporting it is – unbelievably - entirely discretionary.
Along with many others, I find it incomprehensible that teachers, teaching assistants and other staff in Daniel’s school did not do more to help him. It is not that they did not notice his suffering – they did. Daniel’s injuries were internally discussed, but not formally documented and reported. As Geoffrey Robinson, MP for Coventry North West, said “bureaucracy triumphed over common sense, care, and compassion... people seeing a kid beaten, starved to death in our own country... you can’t just say there is nothing we can do about it."
Mandatory reporting laws not only help protect vulnerable children, they also give staff important legislative support when confronted with exceptionally difficult circumstances. Time and again, serious case reviews show that staff are aware child abuse is occurring but fail to report it for many reasons, including fear of somehow getting it wrong, being branded a trouble-maker or a whistle-blower etc. Daniel was literally struggling to survive in full view of staff at his school and yet no one intervened to help him. If mandatory reporting laws had been in place, perhaps our system would not have failed him as it so tragically did.
The first ‘serious case review’ into the circumstances surrounding Daniel’s death was published in September 2013; it points to mandatory reporting models in other countries for consideration. Edward Timpson, Minister for Children was dismissive at that time but asked Coventry City Council to ‘dig deeper’ into reasons for multiple failings. This second report, released on February 5 2014, cites 'poor judgment' as the reason staff at Daniel's school collectively failed to report - this is further evidence of the need for new legislation. As long as reporting remains discretionary, our safeguarding framework willl be fundamentally compromised and staff will remain uncertain, unconfident and unsupported in very difficult circumstances.
Now is the time to petition for change, to make it a legal obligation for staff in regulated activities to protect and safeguard the well-being of vulnerable children. As Nick Clegg said of Daniel’s case "Clearly people must have seen something was wrong with this boy, I think his death should be on all of our consciences."
Please sign my petition for a new law in memory of Daniel Pelka.
Sooner or later, another child's life wiil depend on this www.danielslaw.co.uk
@MandateNow now represents the campaign for Daniel's Law politically and legislatively; the Mandate Now coalition of charities shares our objective for the introduction of Mandatory Reporting in all Regulated Activities.
On an almost daily basis we read of child protection failures in schools, hospitals and other regulated activities. The circumstances surrounding Daniel Pelka's death shocked the nation; it is exceptionally difficult to understand how his multiple visible injuries went unreported by school staff over a period of months, in spite of being the subject of internal discussion and concern.
A change in the law is clearly required so that people working in regulated activities are legally obliged to come to the aid of children in distress by reporting abuse, and can be held accountable for failing to do so. Such laws already exist in many other countries - Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, South Africa, Sweden and USA to name but a few.
The initial report of the Coventry serious case review referenced mandatory reporting in regulated activities as follows:
14.8 Unlike the UK, some countries have a process for mandatory reporting of child care concerns to government departments, which raises the question that if it existed here, whether injuries seen upon Daniel would have been independently reported by individuals to the authorities.
In an interview with the BBC, the author of the report Ron Lock then recommended mandatory reporting in regulated activities be considered as ‘part of any debate’ on future child protection; he also observed that such legislation ‘may have given staff the confidence to report’.
Child abuse is a crime, yet reporting it is discretionary. A new law requiring mandatory reporting in regulated activities will provide a child protection framework in which we can all have far greater confidence, because it will introduce the accountability that is currently lacking.
The campaign for Daniel’s Law does not seek for mandatory reporting legislation to be extended into familial settings, where it is not always effective. What may not work in familial settings, however, is essential in regulated activities for absolute clarity of required action – mandatory reporting in regulated activities would involve the DfE’s recommendation ‘should report’ becoming instruction ‘must report’. This is an important distinction and other young lives will surely depend on it.
As Geoffrey Robinson said “people seeing a kid beaten, starved to death in our own country... you can’t just say there is nothing we can do about it."
We urgently need new legislation which requires the mandatory reporting of child abuse in regulated activities, to help better protect vulnerable children like Daniel Pelka.