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We Cannot Allow Any Child to Disappear

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Another week, another Serious Case Review (SCR). Another stomach churning and deeply saddening child death. This time a four-year-old boy left to starve in a cot built for a baby, so malnourished in his short life that he was only the size of a one year old despite being nearly ready to start school. His body left for two years before being discovered.

It's absolutely right that the national media crawl all over what happened to Hamzah Khan. Anyone who cares about children will be horrified by the detail of his suffering and will see clearly many moments when he might have been noticed. But it's not enough simply to cry that "lessons must be learned". We must ensure that they are. The fundamentals of this case are not so very different from previous tragedies.

In this case we had a mother with extremely severe mental health problems. So much so she barely left the house and lived waste deep in filth. She needed serious medical help but little was forthcoming. She suffered from alcoholism and was a repeated victim of domestic violence from her partner and Hamzah's father. These three risk factors to children come up time and again. Amanda Hutton ticked all three boxes.

This time, in addition, we have a system that allowed a baby to be born and then disappear from sight the moment he left hospital. Hamzah never had his first midwife visit, health visits, registration for school, immunisation, attendance at nursery, nothing. He was to all intents and purposes invisible within a family setting that displayed the three major contextual risks to a child's safety. It concerns me that any parent - especially one displaying obvious symptoms of poor mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence - can miss all of these key appointments and nothing is done. No referral to social services is made. Barely even a follow up attempt in some cases. In such instances a red flag to social services must be raised when key appointments are missed.

This case also shows that in the absence of some well-timed mental health care for a vulnerable parent we ended up with seven children living in hell, with the most tragic consequences for one. The others lived among his mummified body for two years. Just one well timed call from the public or an intervention from a professional - whether in children's work or not - could have been enough to generate the support needed to turn their lives around.

Interestingly, Hamzah's mother did receive attention for her alcoholism and for being a repeated victim of domestic violence. But it does not seem as if these services extended as far as considering what the implications of the mother's state might be for her children. We must see parent: think children.

And it's not only professionals that can save children's lives. Neighbours, friends, family - including Hamzah's father - all failed him and his brothers and sisters. If someone is worried about a child, they should not wait until they are certain. Eventually, a community police office named Jodie Dunsmore, following up on a call from the public, on her second day in the role, trusted her instincts and demanded access to Hamzah's home. It was too late for him but she rescued his siblings from a life of pure hell. She is a hero, though she says rather humbly that she simply followed her instinct.

All of us can be the bridge to life changing help for families or get a child to safety. This is about being good neighbours and looking out for all the children on your street, not just your own.

Please save the NSPCC number 0808 800 5000 to your mobile phone NOW. Call us if you ever suspect a child is being neglected or abused.

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