All too often, news of the abuse and non-accidental death of young children hits the headlines. And yes, followed by ever more hand-wringing by the authorities whose responsibility it is to safeguard vulnerable children. So what exactly goes wrong? And what exactly are the lessons that we're always being told need to be learned?
Well of course there's always scope for better inter-agency communication and co-operation; of course more money would enable higher levels of recruitment and thus help reduce caseloads. But from my own experience as an Inspector with the Royal Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (sadly now defunct) there are specific measures that to my mind need to be established as of paramount priority.
VULNERABLE CHILDREN NEED TO BE SEEN REGULARLY AND FREQUENTLY.
Surely where necessary we must cut across pandemic restrictions when it comes to the protection of young children. There simply is no realistic substitute for visually monitoring the condition and well-being of the child who is considered to be at risk... and all the more during holiday periods when they are not already being seen regularly at school or nursery. Allied to this is the importance of making unannounced visits, not allowing aggression, parental hostility and threats of violence to frustrate attempts to gain access to the child, ideally in their own home environment.
EVIDENCE OF NON-ACCIDENTAL INJURY MUST BE ACCURATELY RECOGNISED.
Many abusive parent figures can be extremely accomplished and convincing liars. And all too often very diligent and dedicated social work personnel can be fobbed off by what sounds like entirely plausible explanations and reassured by a tidy house. Now of course no-one wants to see families broken up and we know that if a child remains in public care for any length of time the chances of rehabilitation absolutely plummet. Nevertheless, in some cases the final option, and the only correct course of action, is to physically remove the child from the threatening environment, and workers should not shirk this!
Of course in order to act appropriately in such circumstances the need for proper professional training in how to accurately recognise evidence of abuse and wilful neglect is essential, as is how to reduce parental hostility, so as to promote constructive cooperation.
TIME MUST BE GIVEN TO ALLOW THERAPEUTIC AND PREVENTATIVE WORK.
By and large, happy adults make for safe children. But sadly young children in particular are often the easy, defenceless targets for emotional and physical outbursts in unhappy households. Promiscuity and other relationship antagonism, financial strain, alcohol and other forms of drug abuse, as well as mental health issues all play their destructive part. And of course sadly in today's society workers are so stretched that there's often only time for crisis intervention rather than constructive preventative work.
Yet there's another element which can prove so helpful. But it's almost always overlooked by both dysfunctional families and over-burdened professionals alike. In becoming a true follower of Jesus we tap into a power far beyond our own when His Spirit comes to live in, and change, our lives. And the invitation is open to all who will seek Him in sincerity...
'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'
Far too many young children were killed by their parents last year. I hope with all my heart there will be less this year... but quite honestly, I'm not holding my breath!