THE Prime Minister’s new measures to jail councillors and officials who turn a blind eye to child abuse are “ill-advised threats” which would not make children safer, a Coventry councillor claims.
Coun Jim O’Boyle, a former Coventry City Council cabinet member for children, was responding to David Cameron’s proposals to widen criminal sanctions against those who ‘fail to protect children from sexual exploitation’.
It follows a damning report into events at Rotherham which found systematic institutional failings in protecting girls from sexual abuse and “cultures of denial and blame”.
The proposal would extend the new criminal offence of ‘wiful neglect’ of NHS patients to child protection – with jail terms of up to five years – where the authorities fail to uncover sexual exploitation and bring offenders to justice.
A whistleblowing helpline would enable public sector workers to report colleagues in confidence.
Coun O’Boyle joined experts in condemning a knee-jerk reaction which could create a culture of fear and over-reaction among professionals, already denied proper funding, with more children torn away from families.
The number of children in care in Coventry has soared in recent years, as have those with child protection plans since the murder of Daniel Pelka and the council’s children’s services last year being rated “inadequate” by Ofsted.
Labour Coun O’Boyle wrote in a blog: “The latest hair-brained plan to prosecute various officials who apparently cover up abuse in its different forms without giving new and real power to those tasked with this job is doomed to failure.
“… Abuse is a crime and not doing anything about it when someone knows something is also (already) a crime.”
But he added professionals had to monitor and gain evidence when acting on suspicisions which could be unfounded.
They needed proper support rather than more pressure from “an insatiable public, press or government seeking quick and easy answers”.
Coun O’Boyle added: “To lock up and deny liberty to our young people because of suspicions will be looked upon with extreme scepticism by much of the public.
“..Great if it saves a child from harm but.. what if the evidence, once thoroughly examined, is found wanting? Witch-hunt time for the social care and other professionals who made it.”
Coun O’Boyle said all the government’s emphasis was on councils, yet schools, hospitals, police, other agencies and families also had roles to play.
So too had the “courts and lawyers who bleed coffers dry with long drawn-out cases designed all too often to be adversarial rather than cooperative and fact-based. “
He added: “… In a time of never ending cuts amid unprecedented austerity, to put yet more onus and pressure on a service which is creaking at the seams… is doomed to long-term failure.. It will drive away the very professionals you want.”