A tragedy which could have been avoided?

Daniel Pelka – The Guardian Online/PA

The media  has carried multiple reports over the last few days about the tragic death of four year old Daniel Pelka. On Wednesday his mother and her partner were  convicted of his murder by starvation and torture. Magdelena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek have been sentenced today (Fri. 2 Aug 2013) to life imprisonment.

Here is a selection from the many reports:

The Guardian, The Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Independent, & The BBC.

Even when the Coventry Safeguarding Children Board publishes its Serious Case Review [SCR] in a few weeks time, the horrors that this young child endured will probably not be fully recognised.

You may be wondering why, after many months of not posting on this blog which is about home education, I have decided to record a comment on the death of this young child. The reason is simple. When I started this blog four years ago, the then Labour government was trying to bring in a level of regulation upon home education which was both unnecessary and threatened to transfer from parents to the State final responsibility for their children. The legislation which would have implemented these changes was put together by the then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls, with the help of Graham Badman. From the outset Balls used the death of Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham as the reason for advancing his socialist agenda. Take for example this answer from an undated web chat he participated in on netmums.com whilst he was the Secretary of State. He was asked about Graham Badman’s report on home education which:

“suggested children who are home educated are more likely to be abused…”

Balls responded by saying that whilst he supported the right of parents to home educate…

“But I do have a responsibility – and I know many home educators will agree with this – to ensure that every home educated child is learning and is safe.”

I know that the majority of home educating parents strongly disagree with him that the government of the day has the right to use the safeguarding of children to police parents who choose to say “No thank you” to what is claimed to be State education. But before I get welded to this particular soap box, let me press on to the point of quoting more of his reply. In the next paragraph of his answer, Balls added:

“But in the small minority of cases where there are concerns about the safety and welfare of a home educated child it is important that the child’s welfare comes first. In the tragic case of Khyra Ishaq, it is clear that concerns about her welfare after she was home educated were not properly pursued by either the school authorities or children’s services. It was following her tragic death that I asked Graham Badman to do his Review and I think his recommendations are fair and right.”

As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog (here, here, here & here) the facts surrounding Khyra’s untimely death clearly demonstrated that she and her family were known to Social Services and the police and that she had only been withdrawn from school when they began to ask difficult questions of her mother. Two of her siblings still attended school. In his comment above, Balls was being lest than truthful when he continued to spin Khyra’s death as occurring mainly because she was home educated.

Balls was not alone in abusing Khyra after her death in this way. I was present when the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee interviewed Ed Balls’ preferred candidate for the post she now holds as the Children’s Commissioner for England. Given that Maggie Atkinson appeared before them immediately before they were to discuss Graham Badman’s report on the topic, it was inevitable that her opinion on home education should be sought. Hansard records her appearance here.

In Question 36 Paul Holmes MP asked her:

“As the person who is 99% of the way to being the Children’s Commissioner for England at the moment, what do you think we should be saying as a Committee regarding the legislative process and the Badman report, and whether it is protecting children’s interests or trampling all over the interests of home-educated children?”

In her response Atkinson bemoaned her experience in Birmingham twenty years previously. Recounting how she would visit home educating families to assess their educational provision, she complained concerning the children:

“They were never interviewed on their own, they were never taken on one side, they were never taken away from their parents and there was never any really intrusive work that I did as an adviser from Birmingham city council.”

Adding that things had changed since her experience and that local authority powers were now more limited than they were in the past, she played her trump card in support of Badman:

But I would give you two words, and they are the first and second names of the child who died—Khyra Ishaq. I do not think that it is taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut simply to be able to go across the doorstep of the home where a child is being electively home educated. Not to interfere, not to insist, not to direct, but simply to check that they are as safe as you need them to be. Khyra Ishaq was electively home educated and withdrawn from the roll of her school in Birmingham, and within 10 weeks she had starved to death. That may be an extreme case, and horrible and dreadful, and it happens very, very, very rarely indeed. None the less, it happened. [Emphasis mine]

My reason for this post is a very simple one. Whilst the fuss over home education has died down for now, I am convinced that it will return at some point in the future. When a new Balls and Badman team arises to wrest responsibility for children from their parents into the hands of the State, no doubt Khyra Ishaq’s name will be “two words” quoted. I write now to put on record one answer every parent should be armed with. That answer is also just two words – Daniel Pelka.

According to media reports Daniel not only attended school, but he and his family were known to Social Services, doctors and the police. At school he was known for stealing food, but it has been reported that the staff simply locked it away in cupboards. Once the SCR is published more of the facts should be known. For now no-one from the local authority has been willing to talk to the media, as far as I am aware. His mother and her partner (his father had returned to Poland) were known to be drug users and his “step-father” had convictions in Britain and Poland. However, they were doing what Ed Balls claimed was necessary for safeguarding children from abuse – they continued to send him to school!

Daniel Pelka’s death is tragic and his name should no more become a political football than Khyra Ishaq’s has. However, his death does illustrate that schools cannot protect every child from abuse, nor can even the most vigilant social services. Most parents do care far better than any agency can for their own children and the State would be much better employed seeking to support fathers and mothers in caring for their offspring rather than seeking to impose State control on families.

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