Lessons for us all from seven-year-old Blake Fowler’s death

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Lessons for us all from seven-year-old Blake Fowler's death

DAVID SIMMONDS highlights the vital importance of giving social workers our continued support in their battle against child abuse and neglect

EVERY time a case where a child has been failed by the professionals who were supposed to protect him or her emerges, it prompts questions about how this abuse and neglect could go on.

When a child is let down by those closest to them we need to know that the authorities are there to pick up the pieces and intervene soon enough to put their life back on track.

We all have a responsibility to get better at spotting the early warning signs and acting accordingly.

In Southampton the report released last week into the death of seven-year-old Blake Fowler has prompted such conversations to take place.

There have been a number of reports into tragic cases of abuse and exploitation of children released over recent months.

Many lives have been damaged by these terrible acts, not just those of the young victims but families and communities too.

As wounds begin to heal, the scale and degree of such vile crimes has given everyone with responsibility for keeping children safe cause to reflect.

Any case that raises questions about child abuse and neglect will prompt discussion about what could have been done differently.

Councils will do everything in their power to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.

Social work is one of the most vital professions and we need to ensure we have enough good-quality social workers to do this difficult and rewarding work.

One of the greatest problems is that abuse and neglect can be diffi cult to spot by both professionals and the community, while ways to tackle it can vary too.

Child sexual exploitation remains a taboo and so is often hidden from parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours as well as from professionals such as social workers, medical staff and the police.

Amid the many myths perpetuated about this crime we need everyone to be able to spot that something is going wrong. As Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz pointed out, the vast majority of cases involve someone in the family.

Another challenge we face if we are to tackle abuse and neglect is to stem the skills crisis facing social work and recruit more people to do this work.

Almost threequarters of councils struggle to recruit and retain enough social workers, even with the millions central government spends on grants for new staff.

There are more than a million people who rely on social services and our teams are doing everything they can to protect them.

But a spate of high-profi le child protection cases has seen a 20 per cent rise in referrals to social services since 2009, during which time councils have seen cuts to their budgets of 40 per cent.

SOCIAL work is important to keep vulnerable children safe. It is in this climate we need to use all available money in the best way.

There are good examples of work going on to protect children across the country. The success and expansion of initiatives such as the Troubled Families programme highlights what councils can achieve when families are supported early in this way.

Councils are helping more than 110,000 families in England through the programme, which means youngsters suffering the early signs of neglect are helped before issues escalate.

But social workers still too often hear about children at risk when it is too late. It is vital that the police, schools, health services and other organisations which come into contact with young people come together to improve the way we all work with neglect.

Child protection is one of the most important jobs councils do and for frontline social workers is challenging, demanding and complex.

As communities and professionals react to the cases reported in the media what is clear is that social workers deserve our support.

There are lessons to learn for all of us to safeguard children, to bring offenders to justice and to ensure that these tragedies never happen again.

Cllr David Simmonds is Chairman of the Local Government Association’s

Source: Express