The Spectator

Respectful uncertainty

The Spectator on the plight of Britain’s vulnerable children

The Spectator on the plight of Britain’s vulnerable children

Families are the raw materials from which society is constructed. They constitute the foundations of our civilisation. And it follows that there are few more unnatural actions that the state can undertake than to invade the relationship between parent and child or even to sever it. And while there are occasions when it must interfere, the state has a profound moral duty to ensure that its intervention is both necessary and constructive.

When David Cameron talks of a ‘broken society’, it is of those families who cannot nurture children that he speaks: the mothers who don’t know how to love because they were never loved; the temporary fathers who can barely look after themselves, let alone provide for a family; adults swept into cycles of abuse because they themselves were abused. It was into such an environment that Peter Connelly, Baby P, was born. And it is perhaps to be expected that the adults who surrounded him — and whose faces the public has now seen — attracted the attention of social workers. But while it was right that the authorities intervened, the nature of that involvement, we know now, was tragically wrong.

Despite 60 visits by social and health workers in Haringey, it seems that no one properly sought to understand the circumstances in which Peter lived. While the disreputable state of his home arrangements was obvious, social workers missed the greatest peril to the child — the fact that his mother Tracey lived with a violent boyfriend. Soon after Steven Barker moved in, detectives finally concluded, every item of Peter’s clothing was stained with blood. Despite his mother’s repeated arrest — she was told she would not be prosecuted for abuse for a second time just days before Peter died — the authorities seemed incapable or unwilling to take the action required to protect him.

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