Climbie: ministers ignored foster warnings

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The Independent Online

Ministers have spent four years ignoring an official report that could have saved the life of Victoria Climbie.

The recommendations, contained in an official report into child abuse at children's homes in north Wales in 1997, called for the registration of private foster parents. But they have never been introduced.

Victoria, aged eight, was tortured and starved to death by her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning, who were both jailed for life in January for killing her.

A public inquiry into the girl's death heard last week that Victoria's parents, who live in Ivory Coast, entrusted their daughter with Kouao because they wanted her to have a British education. Currently up to 10,000 children are in the care of unregistered foster parents, and as many as 6,000 come from West Africa.

The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) will present a report to the Government later this year demanding a change in the law. The BAAF is appalled that while childminders, who look after children for just a few hours each day, must be registered by law, no such rules exist for private foster carers.

A registration scheme was one of several recommendations made as long ago as 1997 by Sir William Utting in his report, "People Like Us", into the abuse of thousands of children in residential care and foster homes.

In his report, presented to the Government, Sir William concluded: "It is a fundamental tenet of this review that all children living away from home should be safeguarded and those who are privately fostered should be no exception. They should have the full protection of statutory regulation."

A BAAF spokeswoman said: "It is extraordinary the Government has ignored this. It is not as though we have not been putting pressure on the Department of Health.

"Once the inquiry is concluded we will know whether Victoria's death could have been prevented by having a registration scheme."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said yesterday: "The primary responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the privately fostered child rests with the parent – and anybody in a private fostering arrangement must advise their local council that they intend to privately foster a child."

The DoH is uncertain how many children are being privately fostered and is aware that few people bother to inform the local authority. The problem is particularly acute for children from West Africa because many end up with white families who may never have met the child's parents. In Victoria's case, Kouao was not particularly well known to Victoria's parents.

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