MPs warned of more Baby P type tragedies

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The Independent Online

It will be impossible to prevent another Baby P tragedy, the chairman of the Children, Schools and Families Select Committee warned today.

Labour's Barry Sheerman delivered the stark message during a Commons debate on his committee's report on children in care.

He said it was important that there was an appropriate response when such tragedies occurred.

Opening an estimates day debate on the Department for Children, Schools and Families, he said: "It is only the most thoughtless politicians that would tell you that there would never be another child death.

"I think anyone who serves on our committee and anyone who knows anything about this, with the level of mental illness and alcohol abuse and drug abuse, there will be other child murders and child deaths and they will be horrific.

"And we will have to be aware that that will happen and react in the right way when those tragedies happen, find out what went wrong and how you minimise it.

"What I would suspect, and what my colleagues suspect, is that you will never be able to eradicate them, you will not."

Even in Denmark, which the committee visited to learn from its well-regarded child protection and care system, there was still a "fairly serious" problem.

He said it was important not to have a knee-jerk reaction following a case like Baby P.

Mr Sheerman told MPs: "There is sometimes a danger that all the resources, after a tragic death, are rushed into child protection and can actually starve the resources for the support of families and good quality social work."

In Denmark, Mr Sheerman said the committee found children taken into care were often housed in small residential units where their parents could still visit, whereas in the UK there was a greater reliance on foster families, adoption or larger care homes.

He said care for children should be "absolutely fantastic" but this could mean more pay and better training for social workers.

"If this is a litmus test of how civilised we are as a society, we have got to persuade our constituents that pay the money to make that level of sacrifice in this sector," he said.

Shadow children's minister Tim Loughton said that while extra money did go into training and childcare in Denmark the cost of housing children in a residential home was around £56,000 a year.

"That is actually half the average cost of a residential home per child in the UK. So it needn't actually be more expensive," he said.