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A damning report by Ofsted recently revealed that up to 4 children die every week in England from abuse or neglect. Two thirds of the victims were less than a year old.
Experts say that 1 in 10 UK children suffers abuse or neglect and that most maltreated children are not known to the authorities. In the UK it is estimated that one million children are affected each year.
An average of 57 sexual offences against UK children were recorded DAILY by police in 2008. In more than 800 cases the victim was aged under four.
The current judicial system does not adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes. The death of a child through abuse or neglect is often punished with a prison sentence ranging from only 1-14 years, most of which are automatically halved with parole. This needs to change now.
WE PETITION THE GOVERNMENT TO:
1. Increase the maximum sentence of 14 years for ‘allowing or causing death of a child’ to a discretionary life sentence, naming this new ruling ‘Peter’s Law’, as it was the murder of Peter Connelly that opened the nations eyes to the injustice of the current tariff.
2. Review sentencing guidelines for ALL crimes relating to child abuse, increasing both minimum and maximum tariffs.
3. Introduce a law concerning fatal abuse without fatal injury where death as a result of complications from failure to seek medical attention; illness in a child whose immune system is impaired by the stress of chronic abuse or neglect; or abuse or neglect of a child already impaired by chronic illness, is labeled murder.
4. Ensure that sentences for child abuse run consecutively.
5. Abolish parole for all crimes against children.
6. Life sentences should mean LIFE.
7. Close the legal loophole which allows abusers to escape jail when the child survives, by blaming each other for the abuse.
Please see the accompanying document for a thorough explanation of our law proposals & examples of the injustice of our current legal system.
In light of the tragic and avoidable death of Baby P and the more recent serious child protection failings in Doncaster and Birmingham, we call for urgent improvements to child protection nationwide to include:
1. The NSPCC say that babies & toddlers are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse. If regular compulsory health checks were introduced, at least 4 times a year for ages 0-2 and three times a year for ages 2-5, they would help to reveal any signs of abuse or neglect. Social Services should be alerted if appointments become overdue.
2. Social workers & health visitors should be allowed to physically examine young 'at risk' children. A child on the 'at risk' register means that child is considered to be at risk of significant harm. Examinations should therefore be compulsory at every visit of an at risk child or when any new child is brought to the attention of the authorities where there are reported concerns of abuse as this is the easiest, quickest & most effective way to determine if a child is being physically abused or not.
In the news recently was a 3 year old Carlisle toddler who was tortured by her father Reuben Williams her entire life. Because a Health Visitor determined after speaking to the mother that there were no child protection concerns without ever seeing the child and because 3 months later, a Social Worker did not examine the child despite renewed allegations of abuse, she was subjected to a further completely avoidable 18 months of being whipped, burned, punched, scratched and bitten. Her body is now permanently disfigured by nearly 200 scars and the emotional harm done is incalculable. Points 1) & 2) should hopefully avoid unnecessary & prolonged suffering of this kind.
3. Social Workers should carry out a task list at every visit which should be adopted nationwide and include:
- check the cleanliness/hygiene of all living quarters
- check for evidence of undisclosed people living at the property & Criminal Record Bureau Check all residents & regular visitors
- check there is sufficient food and other essential supplies
- physically interact with the child
- physically examine the child
- insist children in nappies be changed to reveal any cases of serious nappy rash
- insist any food, ointment, paint etc be removed from the child
- ensure they see the child unrestrained & moving, crawling or walking to assess any difficulty with movement & possible injury
- see children old enough to speak on their own in the presence of another professional, so that the child can talk uninhibited away from its carers
- check for signs of drug use or alcohol abuse as these are often linked to cases of child abuse & neglect
- observe family's interaction with pets as abusive behaviour may be indicative of domestic violence
- check for any other dangers
4. If a social worker strongly suspects physical abuse, they should have the power to remove the child immediately while the matter is investigated, with or without police aid.
5. Social workers must be aware of 'red flags' that could be cause for concern and should check on the child without delay every time one is raised as the child may have already sustained injury or be in poor physical condition. These should include:
- carers failing to attend any appointments
- being denied access to a child or its living quarters
- carers regularly appear not to be at home or who say a child is unavailable (confirm child's whereabouts immediately)
- carers saying that they can't see anyone for a period of time
6. Up to 80% of Social Workers' time is spent on administration. Free up this time to be spent with vulnerable children instead with adequate admin support. Also, main focus needs to be protecting vulnerable children - not meeting targets, budgets or red tape.
7. An urgent review of the criteria required to have a child taken into care. In Baby P's case 2 doctors, the police and a Social Worker stated separately that Baby P should not be returned to his mother and yet lawyers said there was insufficient evidence to start care proceedings.
8. Introduction of the whistleblowers' hotline for the use of all child protection agencies and the public to expose internal bad practice. Better protection for whistleblowers and a ban on gagging orders in such circumstances as they only serve to hush up bad practice and allow it to continue unchecked.
9. Provide a suitable and adequate alternative to the Children's database which must be used and accessed by the NHS, Social Services and the police to help strengthen communication between the agencies. Currently 66% of hospitals fail to check if an injured child is involved with social services and a lack of communication was cited in 75% of child death Serious Case Reviews.
10. to recruit and retain adequate numbers of high quality, well trained Social Workers & Health Visitors.
11. If abusive pet owners can be banned from keeping animals, a similar law should be in place to protect children from abusive carers or carers who allow a child to be abused or neglected. Abusers should forfeit all visitation & parental rights. Why should children have less rights to protection than animals?
12. A child's welfare must always take priority over keeping a family together.
In the light of the Baby P Tragedy, please petition 10 Downing Street to better protect vulnerable children and request that the government adopt the following recommendations for the future handling of children 'at risk' cases:
** Represents known areas where Baby P was badly let down
1.** If on 2 occasions the authorities (police/medical) advise against a child being returned to its family, Social Services should not be allowed to overrule this.
2.** Social workers should insist that all clothing be removed & chocolate/paint/ointment etc be cleaned off at every visit as these may hide a multitude of sins. Children old enough to speak may be too afraid to do so.
3.If a social worker strongly suspects physical abuse, they should remove the child immediately, with or without police aid, while the matter is investigated.
4.Social workers must make regular unannounced and out of hours visits.
5.If a social worker is denied access to a child or living quarters by its carers or suspects that a carer is pretending not to be at home, then social workers should call on the police to gain immediate access, as the child may have already sustained serious injuries or be in poor physical condition.
6.If a carer says a child is with someone else, this must be verified immediately.
7.** If the carer fails to attend any appointment set by social services, the child must be seen without delay, as again they may be injured.
8.If abusive pet owners can be banned from keeping animals, a similar law should be in place to protect children from abusive carers or carers who allow a child to be abused or neglected. Why should children have less rights to protection than animals?
9.** If Social Services refer a child for assessment, the doctor must do a full examination.
10.** If someone is assigned by the council to check on or live with the child at risk's family, that person must be monitored to ensure they are performing their duties.
11.** If a carer tells social services or equivalent that they can't see anyone for a period of time, the child must be seen immediately before this is granted, as the child may be injured.
12.** A child's welfare must always take priority over keeping a family together.
13.Carers should be told that they won't be judged if they admit to not loving a child or that they resent looking after a child or that they simply can't cope and that they can choose to have the child put into care, if only temporarily.
14.All the above points must be made known to carers on the social workers first visit to ensure that carers are fully aware that it won't be so easy to hoodwink social workers, to make excuses or to hide signs of physical abuse and that there is only a small, finite number of chances to get it right if they don't want to lose a child.
15.Legal & child care costs may deter councils from taking child abuse cases to court. To stop this happening, there should be a central government fund in place for these expenses.
16. The NSPCC say that babies & toddlers are particularly vulnerable to physical abuse. Babies are at greatest risk of being murdered in their first year of life than any other age. It should therefore be compulsory for babies & toddlers to have health checks at least every 3 months, for the first year or two, to help detect any signs of neglect or physical abuse. If carers fail to attend a health check, social services should be alerted and the child seen without delay. Responsible carers already take their children to health centres regularly, so this system should only serve to highlight any irresponsible, neglectful or abusive carers.
17. Child abusers and those responsible for a child's death through abuse or neglect must be punished with tougher prison sentences and no parole. The current judicial system is far too lenient.
*'Social Worker' can also mean Health Visitor or equivalent.
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