There is a simple lesson from the Daniel Pelka tragedy that I do not think anyone else has yet drawn.
Those of you who read my response to the Working Together consultation may remember that one of the things I criticised about this government guidance for child protection in England was that it seems to fight shy of clearly defining, or even mentioning, child abuse and neglect.
Indeed the definition of abuse and neglect is relegated to a glossary. The document does not offer any guidance or direction on the issue of recognising abuse and neglect, nor on the related issue of when to make a referral or how to seek advice.
I am the first person to complain about mountains of unnecessary guidance, but I do think that a clear and simple account of the ways to recognise abuse and neglect, and of what to do next, should be an overwhelming priority in drafting guidance for all children’s practitioners.
In the past policy-makers have mistakenly muddied the waters by talking more about ‘safeguarding’ than ‘protection’ and by emphasising words like ‘outcomes’, ‘welfare’ and ‘well-being’ rather than concentrating on the concepts of ‘abuse’, ‘neglect’ or ‘maltreatment’.
A low cost initiative would be for government to commission a small expert group (*) to write a one-page guide to recognising abuse and neglect and what to do if you are not sure. Having something like that in the school might not have saved Daniel Pelka, but it might have reduced the probability that his perilous situation would have been so disastrously overlooked.
(*) I mean that the members of the group should be ‘expert’ not ‘influential’ or ‘important’ or ‘well-connected’. A paediatrician, a child psychologist, a child protection social worker, someone from the police, a human factors expert and somebody who knows how to write very clear and unambiguous documents (probably NOT a civil servant) would be my choice.