The Labour movement is about looking out for the most vulnerable in our society and there is no group more vulnerable than children. They are entirely dependent on the adults around them until they reach an age where they are considered fit and able to lead an independent life. But too often society has failed them. The voice of victims must be heard, justice must be done and, in terms of public policy, we must learn the lessons that will prevent such horror and tragedy from happening again.
The government inquiry investigating child sexual abuse is failing. It has, so far, had four chairs and lost a number of lawyers and one of the victim groups, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, has withdrawn its support. Lisa Nandy asked an urgent question in the House of Commons last Monday about this sorry state of affairs. The response from the minister Sarah Newton was so weak as to be pathetic ‘what we need is for everybody to get behind the inquiry and it will all be okay’ – apparently. The government needs to get a grip on the inquiry and ‘no, Ms. Newton, that is not the same as political interference’. As Helen Hayes pointed out, the question of confidence is not an operational matter.
Less than a week later, the scandal of historic child abuse has begun to rock the world of football and on Friday morning we woke to the news of failings in how the Metropolitan police investigate cases of child sexual abuse. The report found not one of the boroughs/specialist teams investigated was doing a good enough job in protecting children. In almost three-quarters of cases (278 of 374) examined the handling of the case was found to be inadequate. The figures are shocking; the conclusions are damning. When will we start to do better by our children?
I chair a councillor committee on child sexual exploitation for the London borough of Enfield. While my local authority has a good track record on these issues we wanted to be proactive and set up a committee independent of the executive to scrutinise the work of the authority and the agencies with which it works to identify and deal with cases of exploitation. I believe the committee is rare, but would love to hear from any other councillors involved in such work.
As well as progress with the inquiry, the committee and I will be watching closely what happens with the children and social work bill, currently passing through the House of Lords. The government recently suffered a defeat when an amendment was passed to remove a clause which would allow local authorities to deregulate in order to innovate. Even if the provision was inserted with the best of intentions, I cannot begin to contemplate the unintended consequences of such measures.
My week, last week, ended by watching a drama production ‘Chelsea’s Choice’, a hard hitting play exploring issues of child sexual exploitation. To see these issues brought to life in front of your eyes was very difficult, but so important. The production will be brought to schools in Enfield in the spring and it is one that I wish everyone, including all adults, had the opportunity to watch. We all have a responsibility to protect the children in our society, fighting for the rights of children and calling out abuse where we see it. That is why it is so important that the government gets a handle on the child abuse inquiry, which has descended into chaos. We cannot be complacent when it comes to the protection of children. Rotherham, tragic stories such as the case of Baby P, have shown that we have repeatedly let children down and it needs to stop. We need to start doing right by them. Our children deserve better and the blasé approach of this government just will not cut it.
Jansev Jemal is a councillor in Enfield. She tweets at @Jansev
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