Serious Case Reviews: Lessons for
Practice in Cases of Child Neglect
Renuka Jeyarajah Dent and Christine Cocker
The death of a child under any circumstances is tragic. When that death has been deliberately caused by the very adults who were expected to cherish their child, a sense of disbelief permeates not only those individuals directly involved with the child and family but also the wider community. In the face of such difficult circumstances, often our society needs a focus for blame, whether that be a particular individual, or an organization charged with the responsibility of protecting children from abuse and maltreatment.
In England and Wales it is estimated that between one and three children die of abuse or neglect each week whilst in the care of their parents (NSPCC 2001). The majority of these children are very young. An NSPCC working party has shown that in a three-year period, each week up to three children under the age of ten were killed or suffered serious injury, and 83% of these youngsters were under two years old (The Guardian 2003). The Department of Health indicate that approximately 90 child deaths each year are the subject of a formal case review and there is concern that there are still more cases each year which should have been reviewed (Sinclair and Bullock 2002). In the USA patterns are similar. In 1998, 77% of the children who died as a result of maltreatment were between the ages of zero and three (US Department of Health and Human Services 1999). Neglect is more likely to result in fatality than any other form of child maltreatment (Petit and Curtis 1997; US Department of Health and Human Services 1999) and causes the highest rate of fatality due to maltreatment in children between the ages of zero and five (Gustavsson and Segal 1994; Petit and Curtis 1997; US Department of Health and Human Services 1999). In the UK it is noted that although most child deaths are caused by a physical injury, child neglect is often identified as a factor within the child's circumstance (Reder and Duncan 1999; Sinclair and Bullock 2002). According to Reder and Duncan (1999) in cases of neglect the final episode