Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of baby Peter Connelly. It's hard to believe five years have gone by. His name and that poignant picture of him staring up at the camera through baby blue eyes will stay with everyone forever. His death at the hands of those who were supposed to love him and protect him is now etched on our minds. As a parent, I still feel an horrific knot of pain when I think about how a parent or carer could do that to their own child.
His killers were convicted under a new law at the time of causing or allowing the death of a child in their care. This was because they all remained silent on who dealt the fatal blow. Before this law was introduced they may have escaped justice. But thanks to the NSPCC, and other groups campaigning for new legislation, the Courts and the Criminal Prosecution Service were able to make sure justice was served. And this law has recently been expanded so it not only covers cases where a child died but also cases where a child was injured.
The death of baby Peter was a watershed moment in child protection. It followed a catalogue of errors and missed opportunities. And whilst only three people - his mother, her boyfriend and his brother - are ultimately responsible for him dying, he was seen by dozens of professionals from at least 10 different bodies in the months leading up to his death. Warning signs were ignored, chances to prevent his death missed. It's not the time to repeat these well documented failings here but they can never be forgotten.
The ramifications of his death have been huge. Politicians, most notably Ed Balls, moved quickly (and it has to be said very publicly) to find out what had happened and how to prevent it ever happening again. But even Ed Balls made it clear at the time that whilst he would do everything possible to bring about changes, he could never say that it wouldn't happen again. Sadly, he was right.
Since the death of baby Peter around 100 babies under the age of one alone have been killed, the vast majority by their own parents or carers. To this day, the grim tally continues at around one baby a fortnight.
But there is hope. I firmly believe that the public awareness that baby Peter's death evoked has seen an increase in people willing to report child abuse and a higher sense of urgency from the authorities when it is reported. The number of care applications hit 10,000 for the first time last year. This awareness and response, of course, is very welcome and there are children alive today because of swift and firm action that has been taken, often because of a tip off from a member of the public.
However, this has presented its own challenges. A recent survey carried out by Community Care showed that 58 per cent of social workers have had increased workloads over the last 12 months and half have seen a colleague leave during the past year because of their work load. It's worth remembering that one of the reasons highlighted by some for the failures to protect baby Peter was that social workers were overworked.
Sharp funding cuts in children's services will only exacerbate this issue and will simply be a false economy storing up extra costs for later down the line. And whilst we wholeheartedly support efforts by the Department for Education to cut bureaucracy, and the mountains of guidance social workers have to work with, we must invest in the social workers themselves and retain our best and most experienced staff if this is to work. Otherwise we will leave a void where guidance and best practice once lived.
And baby deaths are still far too common. Babies in this country are eight times more likely to be killed than any other age group in childhood.
That's why, today, to mark the anniversary of Peter Connelly's death, the NSPCC is highlighting the on-going plight of our most vulnerable children. We have looked at the circumstances of around 35 baby deaths and found the same mistakes still being made over and over again. The same warning signs being missed, the same lessons for the future repeated over and over but not enough changing.
We are not criticising social workers; they are part of the solution, not the problem. They do an incredibly difficult and often thankless job in challenging circumstances. But we must work harder to help them learn the lessons of the past and the best practice from other social workers. And we must ensure they have the resources they need to do a proper job.
For our part the NSPCC, through our All babies count campaign, has been delivering direct support for new parents and demanding the Government intervene early in families where babies are at risk - primarily homes with drink and drug problems and domestic violence. These are the factors that social workers face every day and that come up time and again in baby deaths. And we are urging the public to not hesitate for a moment to report abuse or neglect if they are concerned about a baby, or any child.
Babies are a high risk group because they are so delicate. They cannot ask for help, they cannot tell a teacher or ring ChildLine. They are totally dependent on professionals spotting the warning signs and they are dependent on you: the person next door; the person on the bus; the family friend or relative. You can make that difference.
So whilst there have seen big changes in child protection since baby Peter died, we must do more. Each case represents a defenceless and innocent life lost. Together, we can bring the number of babies killed down to zero. And we can also support all babies, and their parents, to make sure they get the best possible start in life.
If you are concerned about a child, Don't Wait Until You're Certain - contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 or email email@example.com
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