Do we need another child protection law? A new law will make it an offence to do anything that deliberately harms a child’s “physical intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.”
In reality we do not need more criminal offences in this area no matter how much politicians and campaigners like to be seen to be doing something.
The real issue is how we can change the culture where children can be brutally physically and emotionally abused.
The new law has been called a Cinderella law inspired by the popular Grimm fairy tale that warned of how children are treated by unrelated adults in a household.
Transient partners that move through the homes of children do represent a risk to young children.
It is no accident that in the cases of killing of Peter Connelly, the kidnapping of Karen Matthews, the murder of Tia Sharp, and the murder of Daniel Pelka, the perpetrators were all short-lived unmarried partners to the mothers.
Daniel Pelka’s mother claimed her partner had shouted on the day Daniel was murdered: “This is your f…..g son not mine. Send him back to Poland.”
Although the two were never married, newspaper reports repeatedly referred to him as Daniel’s step-father. He was not.
The Serious Case Review into the death of Peter Connelly states ‘one of the potentially dangerous scenarios in child protection is an unrelated man joining a vulnerable single parent family.’
In fact, the failure by social services to realise that Stephen Barker was living in the house was a major contributing factor to Peter’s death.
The impact that transient males have on a vulnerable mother’s ability to care for her children was noted in the in the Serious Case Review into the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews.
It states, “evidence of this mother’s own emotional vulnerability meant that her choice of male partners and relatively short-lived relationships with men interfered with her ability to concentrate on meeting her children’s needs and to priorities them over her own need.”
Bringing in new criminal offences is reactionary – it only prosecutes abusers after they have inflicted the abuse and how much it will deter them in the first place is anyone’s guess.
Preventing abuse by not facilitating transient partners moving in and out of vulnerable households would be more effective but much more challenging.
The tax and benefit system is one contributing factor. On one hand the system prevents committed partners from committing and co-habiting and instead parents pretend to live apart.
But it also makes it easy for transient, predatory men to move in and out of households as demonstrated by the serious case review into the killing of Peter Connelly.
That house at one point had three adults, seven children, one under-age, unrelated 15 year old girl living in it and was funded entirely by the tax-payer.
I would be surprised if there are many stand alone convictions for this new offence. It is likely that it will be tacked onto the indictment in addition to charges of physical harm.
How many children it will in fact protect from emotional harm is hard to know.
As I said previously, having fancy new laws on the Statute book is easy. Changing culture is far more difficult.