Not too long ago, a friend of mine told me that was struggling to tolerate hearing her neighbour call her 5-year-old, a ‘good for nothing’ f****** bi*** on a daily basis. It doesn’t happen once or twice during the day, but throughout the time that she’s home. She’s heard the man tell her to keep her voice down, but nothing else! I can’t recall what I said but she must have realised what I was thinking and responded with ‘I’m not going to call and tell anyone’
I was taken aback by her reaction, and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. Recently, I attended training about Safeguarding and it’s made me want to write this article. I hope you find it useful.
Which words do you associate with whistle-blowing?
This is one of the things where I struggle to see the grey. If someone’s life can be saved, their mental well-being safeguarded, their access to good opportunities not being taken away from them, and reducing the amount of time they have to endure abuse or neglect, I can’t understand why anyone would stand by silently.
Can we report something without saying who we are?
This is what the NSPCC have to say:-
Don’t wait until you’re certain if you are worried about a child. If you have any concerns or suspicions, contact our free helpline service to speak to an NSPCC counsellor 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
We will listen to your concerns, offer advice and support and can take action on your behalf if a child is in danger.
You don’t have to tell us who you are if you don’t want to, or you can ask us not to share your name or contact with the police or social services. Find out more about how you can remain anonymous.
This is what the Government advises:-
If you’re worried that a child or young person is at risk or is being abused contact the children’s social care team at their local council.
Call 999 if the child is at immediate risk, or call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed.
Advice from Action for children:-
If you are unsure that it is a concern worth reporting, you can call the team and talk it through. They will be able to advise if it is a child protection concern, or whether other help should be provided for the child and family.
The more detail you are able to provide, the better the team will be able to help. Remember, if you have noticed that there is something wrong, then other people may well have done too. A teacher, health visitor or other person that knows the family may have already alerted the local authority. So, your piece of information might fill in a crucial missing part of a whole picture of concerns for the child that others have contributed to.
What could happen if we don’t voice our concerns
It might be the case that, we got it wrong, and withholding our concerns was fine, and all was well with the child that we were worried about.
Alternatively, expressing concerns could have resulted in preventing tragedies like the ones described below.
Victoria was born in the Ivory Coast in 1991. She was 8 years and 3 months old when she died.
Timeline of events
- Her great-aunt took her to France to educate her
- She was regularly absent
- A Child at Risk Emergency Notification was issued in 1999
- A social worker realised that there was a difficult relationship between Victoria and her aunt
- In 1999 they moved to London where the aunt pretended to be Victoria’s mother
- She wasn’t enrolled in any form of education
- They moved into a bedsit with the aunt’s partner
- Victoria was forced to sleep in the bath
- She was tied up in a bin bag and beaten
- They felt she was possessed by an evil spirit because she was incontinent and had skin problems
Cause of death
- Hypothermia, resulting from malnourishment, a damp environment and restricted movement
- 128 separate injuries were found on Victoria’s body, which had been inflicted by a range of sharp and blunt instruments
There was poor communication between agencies, agencies had focused on the needs of the perpetrators instead of the child and bureaucracy was prioritised over outcomes for people.
Lauren became known to social services soon after her birth in 1993. She died when she was 6 years and 10 months of age.
Timeline of events
- There were concerns that she was being neglected and physically abused by her mother
- Her grandmother took over Lauren’s care
- In 1999 Lauren began primary school and care was transferred to her father and new step-mother
- School staff noticed bruising towards the end of 1999 and anonymous allegations of neglect and emotional abuse were made against Lauren’s stepmother
- Her stepmother was known to hit, scream at, and taunt Lauren
- She fed Lauren pepper sandwiches and put bugs in her food
- She withheld water from her and forced Lauren to stand fully dressed in front of a hot stove for hours
Cause of death
- Blow to the abdomen
- Extreme bruising was noted all over her body
No connections were made between Lauren’s current and previous experiences and there was a lack of collaboration between social services, health and education, despite similar concerns.
Daniel lived in the UK and he was nearly five years old when he was murdered by his mother and stepfather.
Timeline of events
- During the last six months of his life he was subjected to physical and emotional abuse and neglect
- Daniel started school in 2011
- He spoke very little English and staff relied on his mother and older sister for help with communication
- Daniel was often isolated
- Daniel and Anna had poor attendance and often arrived late
- Daniel was obsessively hungry, taking food at every opportunity, including discarded food from bins, and beans planted in soil
- His mother told school staff that he had medical problems
- Daniel’s mother was seen as caring by most staff. However, some felt she was too severe, to the extent they stopped telling her about Daniel’s eating problems
- An inquiry into his death found that, at home, Daniel was force fed salt to induce vomit
- Daniel started to come to school with bruises and unexplained marks
- These injuries were viewed individually and were also not linked to staff concerns about his behaviour around food
- None of Daniel’s injuries were referred to social care or the police
- Daniel’s mother and stepfather persistently deceive and used Daniel’s sister to confirm their lies
Cause of death
- Head injury, following months of physical and emotional abuse, and neglect
Before he started school, police and health visitors were involved with Daniel’s family numerous times due to domestic violence and alcohol misuse. The school was not made aware of this.
Professionals did not think the unthinkable.
These cases highlight failures which include lack of record keeping, agencies not communicating, and schools not being made aware of previous concerns. But what if someone in the local area, a family member or someone else had called the police? Might these innocent children have been saved?
As a result of these cases, and others, Safeguarding policies have been analysed and amended, yet I feel the need to stress that these occurrences are not someone else’s problem. If you know something, if you suspect that someone is being harmed, please call the police or the NSPCC or the council.