Sunday, 7 February 2010

Child deaths - trends

We must be cautious in drawing strong conclusions from the analysis of WHO data on child abuse related deaths (CARD) undertaken by Colin Pritchard and Richard Williams (British Journal of Social Work - forthcoming - reported by the BBC on 4th February 2010). The analysis shows not only a welcome reduction in the rate of CARD over the period 1974-2006, but an improvement in the ranking of England and Wales in this respect relative to other developed countries.

There are many issues with international comparisons of this sort, not least different diagnostic and coronial practices in different jurisdictions. While Pritchard and Williams are right to point out that their findings may be a reason for "cautious satisfaction about the progress being made" it seems to me a step too far to conclude that this is reliable evidence of improvements in the child protection systems in England and Wales. There are too many compounding variables to be sure what the causes of such trends are.

It would be very sad if this careful academic study was used by careless commentators to foster any sense of complacency about how effective our child protection services are. The popular press are only too ready to draw unjustified conclusions from the thankfully rare cases where the child protection system fails disastrously. Those of us who deplore such scaremongering must be careful not to make the same mistake in the opposite direction.