The tragedy of the starvation and torture of a four year old is difficult to take. I am still profoundly shocked by evil, even though I have seen, heard and read about all too much evil over the years. It is particularly difficult to grasp how anyone, let alone a mother and acting father, could treat a defenceless four year old in that way over such a long period. Of course the murderers were the parents and they are rightly now condemned.
Maybe because most of us could never contemplate deliberately harming a child, no-one in the community around took any action to help, protect or save him as no-one saw the danger to him from his parents. Let us hope the serious case review tells us more of why that happened. So far the media implies that those teachers, doctors, nurses, and neighbours who saw something was wrong were deterred from taking action by lies from the mother who apparently always had a cover story for the boy’s conduct and state of health.
The ultimate sadness comes from realising that the one small voice which was never heard in all this was the voice of Daniel himself. Why was he never asked why he was scavenging for food? Why was he never asked if he wanted a school dinner? Why was he never allowed to speak about how he was bruised, or emaciated, or had a broken bone? Or was he asked but no adult listened intelligently to the reply or lack of reply? Did no responsible adult ever speak to him without his mother present? Did they never detect his fear or his hesitation in answering, if he held back the truth from a sense of fear of home? Could he not trust any adult around him sufficiently so he could tell them the truth?
One of the things the enquiry should look at is the way adults can and do communicate with children in their care. Of course caring parents and adults have a right not to be spied on through their children, and we need to remember children too can lie. But surely if we had healthier relations between adults and children, not weighed down too much by political correctness, fear of misunderstanding of the adults’ motives, or a simple reluctance by adults to listen to what children say at all, we might spot such a heinous crime as this before the death of its victim? We need to protect children against that minority of adults who prey on children for their own vile motives, but we need to allow the rest to engage with children so there is some mutual trust.
In a recent BBC interview we were as always directed to resources, to local authority budgets and priorities. This surely was not a matter of budgets and priorities. Health care workers, teachers, and social workers all saw this child, all were paid salaries to help him. This is not a shortage of resources, but a failure of communications, a failure of many in society to take a little care for a helpless and tortured four year old. Rather than pick on one or two people who could have done better, maybe what we need to do is look at the general issue of how adults in caring professions relate to children and when they should ask the child to tell them what they think and feel when there are worries or suspicions.
Doubtless many good teachers, social workers and medics do just this and save children as a result. We need to spread the word to others who do not.