Combatting Child Abuse: International Perspectives and Trends

By Neil Gilbert | Go to book overview
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England

Child Abuse Reports, Responses, and Reforms

DAVID BERRIDGE

The last decade in England has seen escalating concern about the abuse of children and its prevention. Following a lull in interest since the mid-1970s, widespread media and political attention was aroused by the deaths in London of Jasmine Beckford in 1984, Tyra Henry in 1984, and Kimberley Carlile in 1986. Public reaction was vehement and individual social workers were castigated, particularly as these children were ostensibly subject to official scrutiny at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, a number of common themes have been detected from these and other tragedies, including certain professional shortcomings and deficiencies in interagency communication and collaboration ( Department of Health, 1991a; Reder, Duncan, & Gray, 1993).

A year later, a crisis of a rather different order occurred in Cleveland, a county in northeastern England. Here, over a 6-month period, some 125 children were diagnosed as having been sexually abused by their parents, with most children being removed from their homes. In this case it was pediatricians who received the most criticism as their diagnoses were perceived to have led to the children being peremptorily and insensitively removed. Hence, in the London cases professionals had done too little too late, while in Cleveland it was too much too soon -- encapsulating the dilemmas of child protection. Doubts were raised about the state's right to intervene in family life, fueled interestingly by the public protests of the Cleveland parents and their allies, who constituted a rather broader social profile of families than is normally the case in child abuse investigations. The nature of evidence in sexual abuse cases compared with individual child deaths obviously also has important implications.

These and other developments influenced reforms throughout the 1980s in England affecting child care law, policy, and administration. Changes oc

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