It’s been a couple of weeks since the Serious Case Review was published on the circumstances leading to the terrible deaths of the Philpott children in a fire in Derby. Here, CareKnowledge editor Jim Kennedy considers the real questions behind the headlines:
At the time of the publication of the Serious Case Review, at least one tabloid ran a feature bemoaning the fact that no professional was to be disciplined, and asked (rhetorically) what was the point of social services if they couldn’t protect children like the Philpotts? This is, of course, just another example of the atrociously negative light in which much of the media views care and social work practice. It may be an impossible job to change the mind-sets that lie behind the headlines, and I know that many professionals will not have seen the article to which I’m referring, but these newspapers are high-circulation publications, and undoubtedly influence the way some of their wide readership thinks.
I do not defend all professional child protection practice. CareKnowledge has always been balanced in the publications it makes available, including SCR and overview reports that have been highly critical of the support provided to children and their families.
I’m writing this blog simply to say that the detail provided by the Serious Case Review report is extraordinarily clear in explaining the background to the involvement of the various agencies which were in contact with the Philpotts.
And I think the report is as convincing as any could be on one critical point made in the article I mention above. That centred on the notion that the agencies involved could easily have found out about Mr Philpott’s long-previous serious assault offences and, if they had done so, a different assessment might have been made of the risks he posed to his children.
The SCR report goes into considerable detail to describe how difficult it actually would have been for care agencies, in particular, to access information from 1978. But, regardless of the media hindsight and Mr Philpott’s offences against adults, there were virtually no specific concerns registered with any agency about the on-going welfare of the children. This was not a case where schools, health staff, or people in the community had raised significant, or multiple worries about the children themselves.
Although the article I read accepted that the fire could not have been predicted, it was clear that Mr Philpott’s history, behaviour, and life-style should have led the agencies involved to see that something really bad was bound to happen – with the only implication being that the children should have been removed (somehow) from his care.
That’s the argument that triggered this blog. Leaving aside the point made about chosen life-style, which seems to me largely irrelevant in this case, and noting that the article’s reference to Mr Philpott having ‘battered his wife’ relates to one incident where he received a police caution, I thought ‘OK, it’s simple then. I see where we’ve been going wrong.’
I’m going to suggest to Mr Gove that he requires every LA to identify children living in circumstances like the Philpotts, with fathers with similar previous offences against adults, with one or two incidents of domestic violence, and lifestyles of which others might disapprove, and, whether or not there are direct concerns about the children, instruct them to take all such children into care. Job done.
Of course not. What happened to the children in Derby was quite frankly tragic beyond comment. I can’t say more.
But we know that there are simply thousands upon thousands of families who meet the basic criteria, seen in the Philpott case, and where children will never be seriously harmed. There is no way of predicting a random act of mindless intent of the sort that occurred in Derby. Providing the kind of protection envisaged in the newspaper article would mean blanket intervention with the tens of thousands of children involved.
That may be obvious to the people inside the system, but it seems a message still far from understood across the media – and more importantly – possibly, across the general public.