Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Daniel Pelka: pre-judging the issue?

I was interested to read the recently reported comments of Coventry South MP, Jim Cunningham, concerning Daniel Pelka.  Mr Cunningham is sponsoring an Early Day Motion in Parliament on the tragedy.

The BBC quotes him as saying that a national debate should take place into ways to improve child protection practices and that we urgently need to look into ways of improving information sharing between agencies. 

It seems Mr Cunningham has already reached his conclusions before having the debate!

To be fair I don’t know exactly what he has in mind in making his comments, but I hope he is not alluding to some of the diabolical ideas on ‘information sharing’ that arose ten years or so ago from the Every Child Matters agenda.   

The idea of tracking every child in the country on a computer system (ContactPoint) was one bizarre Orwellian idea that arose (see former Children's Minister Tim Loughton's comment in the Guardian)  Others included elaborate ‘information sharing protocols’ between agencies, facilitating the exchange of data about families and children between health, local authorities, the police and a host of other agencies.

I do not think that amassing data about families and children is an effective means of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Databases and surveillance systems may be of value to the security services (as they were to the Stasi) but they are no substitute for being attentive to children’s needs, seeing things from their perspectives and hearing what they say. Having lots of information will never compensate for not being adept in recognising child abuse and neglect and knowing what to do next.

Good situation awareness and effective decision-making do not come from having all the data. They come from making the best possible use of the available relevant data.  Sadly it is all too easy to make a poor decision and then to amass more information that appears to support it.

We don’t want undifferentiated ‘information sharing’ – what we want are better decisions resulting in more children being protected.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Blame Culture

Hard on the heels of my last post – calling for a significant cultural shift in child protection organisations – comes news of what looks to be very interesting research on the blame culture in social work.

Dr Jadwiga Leigh of Edge Hill University in Liverpool has carried out comparative research in the UK and Belgium and has found that the blame culture prevalent in many British organisations has a significant negative impact.

Edge Hill’s University’s press release says that Dr Leigh found that in Belgian child protection organisations there was widespread acceptance that mistakes happen and a desire to see what could be learned from them.

On the other hand UK child protection was characterised by hierarchies and power imbalances resulting in a very oppressive culture. Social workers were ‘demonised’ by Government and the media.

If a minister asked me “What is the single most important thing we could do to improve child protection?” I would have to agree with Jadwiga Leigh. Let’s learn from the Belgians. Unless we develop a more constructive attitude to human error in child protection in the UK, we will just stumble on from cock-up to another cock-up, from one tragedy to another. Creating the conditions in which people can learn from their errors, rather than seeking ways to hide them, is vital to children’s safety.  

I was also struck by some other aspects of this research.  Dr Leigh found that the space and environment that social workers worked in is much more welcoming in Belgium. She notes that service users in the UK are stigmatised too. They have to enter “… a fortress-like building to get to see their social worker and in some agencies talk to the receptionist from behind glass windows”.

That reminded me of when I had to visit my social work students on placement (not a million miles away from Edge Hill University) back in the 1980s. One office had a dark and forbidding external appearance and a long and poorly lit corridor that terminated in a cold waiting room in which the metal chairs were screwed to the floor. The receptionist sat behind an armoured glass sliding-window that was located about 1.3m above floor level, resulting in most people having to bend double to communicate. After several minutes of trying to attract attention the window slammed open and the receptionist uttered a glowering ‘yeah’.

She might have said, ’What do you want then?”

Outside the building was a sign erected on the orders of the Director who had read a book by Peters and Waterman. It said “XXXXX Social Services – in search of excellence”.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Save us from ill-considered reforms

In January 1989 a twin-engine airliner flying from London to Belfast suffered an engine failure over the English Midlands. The pilots reacted very quickly. They shut down the right engine and made arrangements to make a precautionary landing at the nearby East Midlands Airport. There was only one problem – it was the left engine that had failed. The aeroplane crashed just short of the runway, near the village of Kegworth, killing 47 passengers and injuring many more.

It was a shocking example of human error. Naturally people were shaken. Naturally they asked how such a thing could have happened. Naturally they expected the authorities to take action to prevent a recurrence.

I remember the accident very well but I do not remember there being calls for a national debate on ways to improve air safety. I do not remember calls for a government-appointed investigation into human errors committed by pilots. I do not remember local MPs putting down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons to debate the issue. People seemed content to leave matters to the Air Accident Investigation Branch and to the Civil Aviation Authority.

Move forward twenty four years and a few miles to the west, to the city of Coventry. It is another time, another place and another tragedy. A small Polish boy – Daniel Pelka - dies of neglect that has gone unrecognised by his teachers and health and social-care professionals. It is another a shocking example of human error. Naturally people are shaken. Naturally they ask how such a thing could have happened. Naturally they expect the authorities to take action to prevent a recurrence.

But the difference with this tragedy is that there are calls for “… a national debate into how to deliver a more joined-up approach between child protection agencies to prevent child deaths”. There are demands for a government-appointed investigation into “systematic failings” and ways of improving the system of information-sharing between agencies and social care practices. Local MPs have put down an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons to debate the issue. 

Not only that but a campaign group has succeeded in getting tens of thousands of signatures to a petition calling for a significant change in the law which could result in seeing teachers, health and welfare professionals sent to gaol for failing to report child abuse and neglect. (

The difference between the two events – Kegworth and Daniel - continues to puzzle me. When it comes to air crashes we seem to be prepared to leave safety improvements to the experts. When the tragedy concerns child protection many of us have our own clear opinions about what went wrong and how it could be put right.

Perhaps it is because aeroplanes are technical sorts of things that most of us cannot even imagine controlling? We can’t say how we could have done it differently because we can’t understand how it was done in the first place.

Or, perhaps, it’s because we are all experts to some extent in child-care – either as parents or children or siblings or neighbours or friends - we all have experience of it one way or another?

Or perhaps it is because the media are more inclined to stoke up blame campaigns when it comes to the likes of social workers and teachers than they are when it comes to airline pilots? Who knows?

Or perhaps it’s just because we have allowed child protection to become a political football, while air safety is not.

The truth is that there really is very little difference between the two tragedies. In both cases professionals were trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. In both cases they misjudged the situation and so took decisions that turned out to be mistaken. In both cases communications were imperfect and misunderstandings arose. In both cases people were reluctant to suggest that a mistake may have been made – at Kegworth passengers and cabin crew could see smoke and flames coming from the left engine, but said nothing when the captain announced he had shut down the right engine.

I don’t think that we should have a ‘national debate’ about how to change systems and laws following the death of Daniel Pelka. We had exactly that kind of debate about what to do after Victoria ClimbiĆ© died and it resulted in lots of strange laws and initiatives that ten years later seem to have been neither relevant nor effective nor wise. It is oh-so-easy to get out the old cigarette packet and start listing ‘reforms’ on the back – yes we’ll introduce this law or that, bring in some new regulations, create some new organisations and rename everything in sight. It might satisfy some politicians and spin-doctors but it won’t keep any child safer. 

The reason that such grand designs are useless is because we – the great British public and our political leaders – know only broadly what happened to Daniel and we do not know why it happened. If we start our reforms from that point it is almost certain that we will reform the wrong thing, tackle the wrong problem and propose the wrong solutions. 

In recent months I’ve heard lots of people complain about the use of the phrase ‘lessons will be learned’. I have some sympathy with them because to be frank I do not know myself what these lessons look like – and I have yet to meet someone who does. It is no good just saying that professionals mustn’t commit human error or threatening them with imprisonment or other punishment if they do. We need to get behind the human error to understand the root causes.

Following Kegworth and similar accidents, aviation professionals began to think much more clearly about human error. Because human error is inevitable, they realised that they have to learn on a daily basis about how errors are made and how they are best avoided or mitigated. They realised that an essential part of doing their jobs was understanding their own capacity to get it wrong.

Accordingly they developed training and practices influenced by the psychology of human error. These are now referred to as human factors. Today this kind of training is mandatory. Pilots, cabin crew and ground staff all regularly undertake courses in human factors. In their day-to-day work they practice skills and procedures to help them reduce error, such as de-briefing after a significant piece of work, to understand what went right and what went wrong and why? That helps them to understand what to do to avoid similar mistakes in the future and to get it right more often.

And national systems for collecting data about error have been established. Did you read recently about two pilots who both fell asleep at the same time during a transatlantic flight? How do we know about it? Not because the Daily Mail (whose lurid account I am loath to recommend) investigated it but because one – or probably both – of the pilots reported it.

The correct approach to safety is to create the kind of culture in which every employee is encouraged to report, examine, discuss and understand human error in the workplace. There needs to be arrangements – such as the CHIRP near miss reporting system in aviation – which allow professionals to share their own experiences of getting it wrong so that colleagues can learn before a disaster occurs. Every employee needs to be free to talk openly about her or his errors. That way everybody learns.

Academic studies, public enquiries, Serious Case Reviews, Parliamentary debates or public heart searching do not result in understanding why things go wrong in child protection. Indeed, given a prevailing culture in which the knee-jerk response is to blame a few bad apples and promise that it will never happen again, there is really very little learning going on at all. Until this situation is changed child protection will never get safer. We will simply lurch from one disaster to the next. 

So here is my ‘grand design’. Let’s have no more grand designs, but let’s resolve to create the kind of culture in child protection where real, genuine and sustained learning about how to reduce and mitigate human error takes place in every workplace and in every team and every staffroom every day. Let’s create a culture where employees who are prepared to talk openly and frankly about their errors are not seen as targets for disciple or sanction, but are seen as primary sources of learning which can be the basis of much improved and safer services.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Hamzah Khan – four types of failing

I eventually finished reading the Hamzah Khan Serious Case Review Overview Report ( I ploughed on to the bitter end…. 

The report is not easy to read. It is long and quite confusing. Fact, deductions from fact and opinions are often mixed together in a way that I found hard to digest. In some places there is too much detail, but in other crucial areas there is too little. I can now understand why ministers and civil servants may have become impatient with it.

Although the report does not, in my view, satisfactorily address why questions, it does identify what seem to be four areas of service failure.

Firstly there was a failure of health surveillance. The ideal is that most families with small children should receive some regular input from their GP and Health Visitor during the early years. Hamzah’s mother did not co-operate with health professionals and it seems to have taken far too long for any action to occur to try to overcome her resistance. The GP appears simply to have thrown in the towel and removed the name of the child from the practice list.

This is the issue in the case that concerns me most. For reasons that have never been clear to me, the number of Health Visitors was allowed to fall under the last Government resulting, by 2010, in very high caseloads and overworked practitioners. Although the present Government has an ambitious target for reversing this decline, it is not clear whether this can be met and progress to date has been modest.

Dating back more than 150 years, the UK tradition of Health Visiting ( is one that has been widely admired and copied in other countries. Most families with very young children welcome the help and support of a Health Visitor in providing advice and guidance about their child’s health. Sadly, in recent years, because of high caseloads, services have become increasingly focused on families who have already been identified as being high-need.

I believe all children have a right to health care and to have appropriate access to health care professionals. In most cases parents facilitate this right, but in rare instances they frustrate it. The NSPCC is certainly right to suggest that a ‘red flag’ should be raised by health professionals if a child slips off the health surveillance radar ( , but I wonder whether we need something more.

Although I have never been a fan of more legislation, I do wonder whether or not we should consider some way of overcoming a parent’s unwillingness to having their child medically monitored during the early years. Perhaps some sort of court order, possibly like a Child Assessment Order, could be introduced to allow health professionals to conduct a non-invasive medical examination where there was a proven refusal by a parent to have their child checked for milestones. In most cases parents would probably consent to an examination of their child once they were informed that otherwise an order would be applied for. This idea might sound heavy handed but, without something like this, I do not see how we guarantee a child’s right to health care when a parent wilfully denies the child access to health professionals.

Another theme from the Review is professionals’ failure to consider the impact of domestic violence on the children. In this case the father, who was seen as the perpetrator, had been removed from the home and mother was conceived of as the victim. The focus of help appears to have been on protecting her from him. As so often in child protection we see confirmation bias and fixation error resulting in professionals focusing on one aspect of the case and simply not being able to see other aspects. The children's needs were largely invisible. Training professionals to spot when loss of situation awareness is  happening is something that should be much more common. Building simple mechanisms to review and challenge received-opinions about a case should be an important focus of management. Had one group or another de-briefed properly following contact with this family, somebody might have asked the key question – does mother pose any sort of danger to her children?

That brings us to failures to listen to children and young people. A cry for help from one of Hamzah’s older siblings went unheard, wrongly interpreted as teenage angst.

It is easy to say that we must listen to children more, but adults need to be educated and trained to listen to children better and they need to be supported in articulating a child’s voice within organisations in which adult values and approaches dominate decision-making. Most children’s services remain strongly maternalistic/paternalistic. We need to think of ways in which they can become less so.

Some adults are naturally very able at talking to and listening to children, but most, who aren’t, need to be helped to become better. That is quite a tall order but it does seem to me to be a clear priority for training and staff development across all professional groups who work with children and young people. Talking to and listening to children should be a key part of any qualifying training across a range of professions delivering children’s services and there should be regular top-up training, in my view at least annually. And we should assess children’s services professionals according to how well they are able to communicate with children.

The final area concerns failures to respond to child protection referrals appropriately. This is the area that the minister feels is not addressed clearly in the report and I think most people would agree with him that the report does not provide a clear picture of why referrals were not followed up. Hopefully the report’s authors will be able to assist in answering the minister’s questions. I will return to this area in a new post, when the additional information becomes available.

Not Good News

The Community Care survey reveals a depressing, but not surprising, picture of rising ‘thresholds’ for child protection social work.

Eighty percent of 600 social care professionals surveyed by the magazine said that they had seen child protection ‘thresholds’ raise during the last year. This was particularly marked for neglect. Respondents attributed the rise to high vacancy rates (40+%), lack of social workers (60%), budget cuts (70+%) and increased referrals (just under 80%).

Spokespeople from the British Association of Social Workers and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have made sensible statements in reaction to these figures. 

The figures are indicative of a squeeze on services – more demand and less supply. In my view the Government does not have a credible response to this situation. The idea that Frontline (see - will solve the supply problem is fanciful – even a fantasy – and there is no clear guidance on how local authorities are supposed to respond to persistently increased demand for services in the absence of more resources.

People at local level – often ‘coal face’ staff – are being asked to take the strain. They are being expected to work more effectively with reduced resources. In short, they are being asked to square circles.

Systems should be able ‘flex’ to some extent to cope with fluctuations in demand, but, like balloons, there comes a point when even a rubbery envelope can no longer sustain the increase in pressure.

It is difficult not to conclude that the result will be further disasters.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Emotional Neglect - leave well alone

The campaign to make emotional neglect a criminal offence in England seems to be being driven forward without much attention to either the priority or the logicality of the proposed changes.

An article about this in the Independent seems to me to put mostly only one-side of the argument.

We are told that a majority of police officers want a change in the law, but we are not told what social workers, child psychiatrists and psychologists, paediatricians and other professionals think.

Nor are we told that the civil law in England treats emotional abuse and neglect in just the same way as other type of abuse. There are no legal obstacles to intervening in these cases and bringing matters before the Family Courts.

The only effect of the proposed change to the law would be to allow people who emotionally neglect their children to be arrested and tried in the criminal courts, even imprisoned. In my experience most people who emotionally neglect their children are not rational and calculating; rather they are drug or alcohol dependent or mentally ill. The priority should be to get such people adequate treatment, not put them in prison.

Punishing failing parents seldom does much for their abused and neglected children. In most cases children want the abuse and neglect to stop, not to see their parents behind bars.

And I believe that if the law were changed it would not be long before somebody would be tried and convicted who clearly is not bad but sad. That would then bring the law and child protection into disrepute.

I am surprised by how much support seems to be given to a proposed change in legislation that is supported by so little evidence. Messing about with this issue is a distraction that is likely to result in bad law.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Hamzah Khan: the Serious Case Review, initial reaction.

I was surprised to find myself agreeing with most of the points that Children’s Minister Edward Timpson made in his letter to the Bradford Local Safeguarding Children Board regarding the Serious Case Review (SCR) report concerning Hamzah Khan.

I have not yet finished reading the report, but I am wading slowly through it. And I have already been struck to some extent by a tantalising absence of detail in some places. As one is reading, questions seem to occur all the time – why, how, when?

So the minister is quite right to ask about whether assessments were undertaken on various occasions and what actions were or were not taken on others.

Ministers and civil servants have had rather longer than the rest of us to peruse the report. That might be time during which frustration with it could grow and fester. But I don’t think that is any excuse for the rather nasty language that seemed to be oozing out of the Department for Education and onto the desks of BBC reporters just before this evening’s 6 o’clock News on Radio 4.

“The Government has dismissed as rubbish …” the BBC bulletin began citing unnamed sources; and continued to speak of “glaring absences in the review”.

It may not be the best SCR report ever written, and it certainly does not explain everything, but it is NOT rubbish. It provides a partial imperfect picture of what happened. It is a starting point, not a finishing point. It is an SCR report and it shortcomings are typical. I have serious doubts about whether the Serious Case Review approach will ever deliver full clarity and certainty about what happens in these tragic cases; but perhaps that’s another story for another day….

Pointing out shortcomings is one thing. Rubbishing the report is something else. To do that is unhelpful and unconstructive. The unnamed Whitehall sources should be warned. This is not knockabout politics; it is serious stuff about the safety of children.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Thumbs down to Frontline

Community Care has found evidence that many social workers share my doubts about Frontline, the scheme to fast-track ‘high-flying’ graduates into social work.|SCSC|SC019-2013-1107 

Apparently almost 80% of those surveyed did not believe the scheme would address current staffing issues.

I think Frontline is the wrong scheme aimed at the wrong issue. One of the respondents is quoted as saying:

 “ We don’t need high flyers, we need emotionally intelligent workers. They are tackling the issue from the wrong angle.”

That is spot on. 

And I believe that the real issue is not recruitment so much as retention, an issue that Frontline does nothing to address.

The Dangers of Common Assessment

Ever since the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) was introduced, back in the time of the previous Government, I have felt uneasy about some aspects of it.

I never liked the emphasis on process implicit in ‘doing a CAF’ heightened by the use of a bureaucratic form to structure it. I have also felt uneasy about the risk that children who should be subjects of Section 47 Enquiries (into child abuse) could become the subjects of Common Assessments as a result of resource pressures and the misapplication of ‘thresholds’: “We are very busy today and this case looks a bit marginal so do a CAF and get back to us if something worrying emerges”.

That is what seemed to happen in the Khyra Ishaq case. I say ‘seemed’ because the Serious Case Review report does skate around this issue. One thing that is certain is that the members of staff at Khyra’s school were told that her case was NOT 'child protection'; and they were invited to complete a CAF instead.

Now another case raises similar concerns. The Isle of Wight’s Safeguarding Children Board’s Serious Case Review Overview Report in respect of Baby T ( considers the background to what it says was the preventable abuse of a small child. The report argues that the inappropriate use of a CAF in this case was an important causal factor in the child not receiving the help required. The report states:
“… the very fact that it (a CAF) was in place provided the First Response Unit with a reason to not intervene because the case was already subject to a CAF. This family should not have been dealt with at the common assessment level because of the background information available, the risks that the children were facing, the complex nature of the mother’s personality, and the evasive behaviour and disguised compliance that the mother presented.” (Paragraph 5.40, page 46)
The report goes on to demonstrate that the decision to undertake a CAF resulted in a lengthy time delay in according any kind of service, poor co-ordination and planning and the selection of the wrong person as lead professional. The report concludes:
“The CAF process as followed by that Centre and health professionals failed the mother and her children and provided little benefit to them.” (Paragraph 5.47, page 48)
I can remember being involved in discussions with senior civil servants and key sector representatives when the Common Assessment Framework was being planned. So convinced was everybody by the promise held by what was then the ‘flavour of the month’ policy that nobody seemed to want to examine the ‘error traps’ which lurked within the arrangements then and which are still part of the process today.

Recommending a CAF does not necessarily make an unsafe situation safer. Indeed it may make it less safe, because, as in the case of Baby T, it appears wrongly that something is being done to lower the risk, so reducing the priority of the case in the eyes of Children’s Social Care staff.

We all need to understand that that is a risk inherent in the process. That doesn’t mean not undertaking any CAFs at all, but it does mean thinking laterally when a CAF is being considered and not just batting a case into the long grass with a sigh of relief. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Mandatory Reporting - further thoughts

In my previous post I said that I would only be open to persuasion on mandatory reporting if any law was framed to include words such as ‘intentionally’, ‘knowingly’ or ‘recklessly’ to distinguish the activity to be criminalised from genuine errors or poor practice. 

Having slept on the issue I would like to add the words 'malciously' and 'willfully' to that list. 

I believe that it would be absolutely essential to distinguish unequivocally the kinds of deliberate cover-ups described in the Panorama programme from the kind of errors that resulted in the deaths of Daniel Pelka, Baby Peter Connelly and many others.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mandatory Reporting – the need for caution

I remain deeply sceptical of the need for mandatory reporting of child abuse. I wasn’t persuaded by the arguments of broadcaster, Esther Rantzen [1], or former Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer [2], who have now joined the ranks of those speaking out in favour of its introduction in England and Wales.

Like other campaigners they point to the existence of mandatory reporting in other countries, such as Australia, Canada and some US states, but they do not point to any clear evidence that mandatory reporting results in safer children. And they do not point out that child protection in some places with mandatory reporting is manifestly no more effective than in it is in Britain; and in some of those places it is worse.

I am instinctively against recourse to legislation and criminal sanctions unless there is very clear evidence that to do so would make children and young people safer; and I think the evidence for mandatory reporting is scant.

Mandatory reporting is not a magic bullet. Indeed it has potential to do some real harm. There is the risk of over-reporting resulting in scarce resources being devoted to investigating ‘false-positive’ cases instead of being spent on providing services to those who actually need help. That was found by at least one Australian study [3].

Then there is the issue of blame. If professionals believe that they are likely to be punished – even sent to prison - if they make errors by not reporting abuse, then they will not confess to those errors but will seek to cover them up. Perversely a measure designed to make children safer, results in systems that are less safe.

However, I did sit down to watch last night’s BBC Panorama programme [4] with at least a partially open mind. The first thing that struck me was that the cases discussed were exclusively ones in which sexual abuse had occurred in institutional settings, such as boarding schools, hospitals and religious institutions. The other striking thing was that in all the cases people had very deliberately conspired to protect abusers or institutions and to allow children to be at continued risk of abuse.

That is very different to what appear to be the circumstances of the Daniel Pelka case, where school staff and other professionals misjudged the position and lost situation awareness. Yet it is because of Daniel’s tragic death that a campaign for mandatory reporting has grown, some campaigners even speaking of ‘Daniel’s Law’.

As I have already said, I would tamper with the law with extreme caution, but I can see a case for invoking criminal sanction where a person deliberately and with malice aforethought covers-up the abuse of a child and knowingly allows that child, or other children, to continue to suffer at the hands of an abuser. That is clearly wrong.

To begin to convince me, campaigners for mandatory reporting would need to distinguish clearly between mistakes which, however regrettable, were made in good faith, and which should not be the subject of criminal sanction, and cover-ups and deceptions designed to protect an individual or institution while placing a child at risk. I would suggest that the way any law is framed would need to include words such as ‘intentionally’, ‘knowingly’ or ‘recklessly’ to distinguish the activity to be criminalised from genuine errors or poor practice.

Those who intend to do wrong are a legitimate focus of the criminal law. Those who do not get it right should not be punished, but helped to get it right next time.   


[3] Ainsworth, F. “Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect: does it really make a difference?” Child and Family Social Work 2002, 7, pp 57–63

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Difficulties of Disclosure

Some interesting and important research has recently been published by the NSPCC [1]. Sixty young adults (aged 18-24 years), who had experienced different type of serious maltreatment during childhood, were interviewed about their experiences of disclosure.

It emerged that more than 80% had tried to disclose the abuse to someone, but many disclosures went unrecognised or were misunderstood. Often disclosures were “… dismissed, played down or ignored”. 90% of the young people had had “… negative experiences of disclosure”, mostly when the people they had disclosed to had failed to respond appropriately.

The young people said that they wanted “… someone to notice that something was wrong”. They said it would have been helpful to have been asked direct questions. They said that professionals should investigate “… sensitively but thoroughly”. They said that they wanted to be kept informed about what was happening.

Not only does this research point to an area of practice in which there is a high probability of things going wrong – children disclosing abuse and not being heard – it also points to ways in which practice can be improved to reduce the chances of abused and neglected children going unheard.

I think this is a really useful piece of research. I think the key phrases are: ‘direct questions’, ‘sensitively but thoroughly’ and ‘kept informed about what is happening’. Training focused on these areas will help practitioners to help more children to disclose.

[1] Allnock, D. and Miller, P. (2013) No one noticed, no one heard: a study of disclosures of childhood abuse. London: NSPCC. Available at: