The presumption of innocence

“I think you should read the report.”

A simple sentence. Powerful words though. A challenge, and a (deserved) reproof.

So I read the report.

Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Serious Case Review – Children A-F – Overview Report – March 2015

I would advise you to do so as well. If you can stand it.

I don’t claim to have read every word. I shall do, but in the time available I have read key sections. I am not intending to give a reasoned overview of the report. This is my blog and this is personal polemic. A rant.

Reading the report a number of things sprang to my mind that I wanted to write down whilst they were fresh. There is an issue of time. Tomorrow, the day after maybe, no-one will be interested in reading this. We will have moved on to the next atrocity, the next policy announcement, the next royal birth, the next corrupt politician. So I suppose that’s the first thing that springs to mind – these things happen because we let them, because we didn’t focus on what was important, we focussed on what was current.

I guess the section that most people will read and feel a little bit of relief is 5.26-31 which details the nature of the families. My family isn’t like that, most people will be able to say, these aren’t my children. Phew! That’s not a bad thing to suggest, just recognition of the way any parent would feel when presented with a threat to their children and then finding a way to allay it.

I don’t have that luxury. My children are adopted. My children, had their lives taken a slightly different turn, could have lived those lives. The children involved, had their lives taken a slightly different turn, have been in my family. I can’t say these are not my children, because in a very real sense they could have been.

So you’ll excuse my lack of a total detachment when I write this. I can’t detach myself from my children. That doesn’t mean I care any more than you, but perhaps I do take it a little more personally. Which I recognise may not automatically make my view a better one.

There are many issues highlighted in the report. But the following fact sticks with me throughout. These reports are presented to us by the media and by politicians, local and national, as if the events are all a bit of a surprise. That we should thank them for finally dragging them out from under the shutters and into the cleansing glare of sunlight. The report is clear that this is not the case. It is clear that very few of the offences which took place against these children were unknown. To either their parents, to their social workers, to the police, to senior officials in the local council. The facts were known. But few if any dots were joined. The benefit of the doubt was always given. But to the wrong people. The easy way out was always taken. Just one example:-

The Police describe one process in relation to underage sex with three men encouraged by money, and reported by a children’s home after one of the children returned from several periods of being missing. It was not originally recorded as a crime. The IMR identified over 24 recorded investigative actions over four months (mostly related to multi-agency liaison including several meetings). At an early stage the officer in charge said that “there is no victim as such as she is not willing to give police a statement”. (5.52)

There is a culpability there.

And schools, what of the schools:-

“The reality is that the secondary educational experiences of the six girls were in the main poor. They appear to have been responded to either through detention or exclusion and had long periods of absence from school. Alternative provision was limited, with little evidence of cross-checking against alternative provision registers and school registers, leaving young people vulnerable as schools were not aware as to whether they were actually attending alternative provision.” (5.139)

Six children. A number of schools. They too would each have had their problems. With a thousand other children to look after. But one would have to say that the evidence suggests that these children were out of sight, out of mind. The para continues:-

It also said that many staff saw the period after 2005, when Education and CSC were theoretically merged but in their view operating separately, as one of low morale and ‘chaotic reorganisations’. The IMR said that before 2008 there was view that the “educational needs of Looked After Children (LAC) were just not seen as important as there was so much structural and leadership change”, and that “from 2008–2010 children’s homes’ response to home tuition was not consistent”.

Remember, this is not a period where we can blame the monster Gove or rail at the iniquities of austerity induced privatisation. This was a time when every child was supposed to matter. It is clear that they didn’t. They were someone else’s problem. I know there are many that disagree with me on this, but a school cannot wash their hands of a child when they become to hard to handle. I’ll see your “damaging effect on other children’s education” and raise you one “child raped and sold into sexual slavery” any day. The protection of the child trumps all else.

No doubt lessons will be learnt from this report, some people will be chastised, changes will be made. Laws will be passed to jail people. The wrong people.

Then it will happen again. It will continue to happen again and again until we get one thing through the heads of all those in a position to help.

Children are innocent.

They may be contrary, challenging, disruptive and in many cases impossible to work with. They may rail against your help, and positively set out to wreck your attempts to protect them. They may take the drugs, drink the alcohol, accept the gifts. They may even travel to Syria. They may do all those things, but you have to hold on to that one thought.

Children are innocent.

Unless that is our mind-set then we allow their protection to be compromised. We allow ourselves to forgive that we cannot save them all. We allow everything that this report tells us happened in the centre of Oxford, that happened in Rotherham and that will be happening in towns and cities across the nation.

The protection of the child begins with the presumption of innocence.

And finally,

“The child is recognized, universally, as a human being who must be able to develop physically, mentally, socially, morally, and spiritually, with freedom and dignity.”