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Child protection reporting strengthens a ‘failing’ system

By Myriam Dijck

Pressure on the social care system created by the intense media glare is a force for good and can help improve a ‘failing and depleted’system, according to a top child protection specialist.

Dr Liz Davies, a reader in child protection at London Metropolitan University, has worked closely with the media for almost 20 years to expose child protection scandals in the UK.

Her first encounter with the press came in 1992 when she worked with the investigative journalist Eileen Fairweather to unearth details of a child abuse scandal in Islington.

Writing in the July edition of Press Gazette magazine, Davies said her experiences of working with the media had been an ‘entirely positive’one.

‘One of the most important roles of the media in this field is to challenge government and misinformation and agendas that do not have the interests of children at their heart,’she said.

Commenting on the Islington case, she said: ‘Without investigative journalism and persistent media coverage the perpetrators would not have been exposed and children would have continued to be unsafe.

‘Since then, this and other child abuse cases have continued to gain coverage.”

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In June’s edition of Press Gazette journalist Richard Vize, the former editor of Health Service Journal and a key player in the recent Munro Inquiry into child protection, said reporting of such issues was often ‘vindictive’and ‘simplistic”.

Vize believes this ‘pattern of hostile coverage’in the media can be traced back to the 1970s.

Davies claimed much of this was down to the uneasy relationship between social workers and journalists – because “in making any contact with the media, social workers face disciplinary actions for reasons of confidentiality” and run the ultimate risk of losing their jobs.

She cites the cases of Neville Mighty, who was banned from working with children for ten years but whose only ‘crime’was going public as a whistleblower in Islington, and Nevres Kamal, a social worker who spoke out against poor practice in Haringey before the Baby P case but remains unemployed.

In the wake of the Baby P scandal there was a huge surge in the number of cases being referred to the authorities – and Davies believes this can only be a good thing.

“The increase has put pressure on an already failing and depleted system, but the fact that most children who die from abuse have not been the subject of child protection planning means that for children to gain safety and justice there needs to be public confidence in reporting abuse.

‘If publicity anout Peter Connolly led to more members of the public taking action to protect children then that has to be good news.”

You can read Liz Davies’ feature in full in the July edition of Press Gazette magazine

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