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Our weekly columnist Beatrix Campbell says the national child index won't give professionals a mandate to act The minister for children, Beverley Hughes, is surely right: the proposed national inventory of Britain's 11 million children, the child index, will not be a 'technological magic wand'. It will not prevent child abuse catastrophes.

Our weekly columnist Beatrix Campbell says the national child index won't give professionals a mandate to act

The minister for children, Beverley Hughes, is surely right: the proposed national inventory of Britain's 11 million children, the child index, will not be a 'technological magic wand'. It will not prevent child abuse catastrophes.

It may help to keep track of children, it may identify the last point of contact with the disappeared ones, and it could, for example, clear up the mystery surrounding the whereabouts and well-being of the hundreds of migrant children who disappear from public records.

Professor Richard Barker makes the interesting argument that the index, which originated in the Laming report into the death of Victoria Climbie, is a positive affirmation of the state's responsibility for children - as the holder of an index it also holds responsibility. 'At the moment, children are, in a sense, the property of their parents. The index asserts the state's responsibility towards them, to try to keep them safe,' he says. At a time when the prevailing political wind supports shedding state responsibilities, this is an important gesture.

But what it won't do is save lives. The reason is political, not technical.

It has become habitual with child abuse inquiries to intone information, and to insist that professionals share it.

More than a decade ago, the inquiry into the death of the toddler Toni Dales foretold the future. It wasn't that people did not know what was happening to Toni, a three-year-old killed by her father; they knew everything they needed to know.

Nursery workers saw what everyone saw - a frozen, watchful child who didn't play, didn't speak, who would stand, alone, holding her head in her little hands, sobbing. No one felt mandated to act on what they knew, to intervene, to take her side and save her life.

The problem is not so much about knowing, as it is about determined not-knowing -the process that makes professionals not know what they know, that reduces professional judgement to case-management, and treats assessment as if it were the same as intervention.

Child health and welfare professions have been denigrated and demonised.

Social work has been disempowered, probation is being privatised, and the Government prowls child abuse controversies with a panicky dread of accused adults and the Daily Mail.

The proposed child index is a response to a crisis, but it represents instrumental rather than institutional reform. The index won't do what professionals don't feel allowed to do.

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