Dominic Lawson: Sacking social workers will not stem this tide of depravity

What no one seems willing to discuss is the real horror of the Baby P case

Related Topics

Seldom can so many inquests have been held over a single, tiny, corpse. Last night BBC1's Panorama carried out yet another, under the title, "Baby P – the whole truth?" The question mark conveniently allows for a further such investigation, whenever the public mood demands it.

Panorama's latest scoop came courtesy of the police, who remain anxious to make it clear that the failure to prevent the murder of Baby P – now identified as Peter – was not as a result of any investigative failure on their part. They have told the BBC that Peter's mother had informed a social worker that she had acquired a violent new boyfriend, four months before the little boy was tortured to death. This information was not passed to the police, who had already pressed for the mother to be prosecuted for child abuse.

The imminence of this broadcast might help to account for the fact that last week two of the suspended Haringey social workers involved were suddenly dismissed. Beleaguered Haringey must have wanted to make some sort of pre-emptive response to the programme; more significantly, they were also anticipating the conviction, a day later, of P's killer on a separate charge of raping a two-year-old girl.

This set in motion the other media ritual in such circumstances – an interview on Today with Lord Laming, author of two reports following the deaths of children on Haringey Social Services' at-risk register. Laming produced his now familiar litany of suggestions for social working "best practice", accompanied by the chilling observation that "the state should become a responsible and effective parent to more children".

All of this is doubtless well-meaning – but it is so much displacement activity, both on the part of ex-bureaucrats such as Laming, and the investigative media. I'm quite prepared to take their word for the fact that the social workers involved were negligent – although the fact that the social services had paid over 50 visits to Baby P's home hardly suggests a lack of concern; but incompetence is neither unusual nor wicked. What no one seems willing to discuss is the real horror: the fact that a mother was prepared to hide from the social workers (with smeared chocolate) the appalling injuries inflicted on her own son by a sadistic brute she had only recently allowed into her home; and the fact that this is just an isolated incident of a much wider phenomenon.

Last December the head of Ofsted, smarting from the criticism her organisation had received over its invigilation of Haringey Social Services, pointed out that over the previous 16 months 210 children had died in this country as a result of abuse, and of the 21 babies who had died, only two were known to the social services. The point is that no imaginable social services, even if staffed by vastly experienced people of limitless wisdom and energy, could begin to do more than stick a plaster on the gaping wound of Britain's dysfunctional so-called "families".

While it is true that there are cases in which a child is killed by his or her natural father, this is, in statistical terms, unusual. Baby P is a more typical case, in being murdered by someone in the home, but with whom there is no proper parental tie. It is simply a fact that the growth in "broken homes" has led to a vast increase in the number of children deemed to be "at risk" – no fewer than 1.5m now fall into this category.

Our own Government has consistently refused to examine this connection, but such work has been carried out in Canada; academics there have investigated what they term "differential attributes of lethal assaults on small children by stepfathers versus genetic fathers". They discovered that "the youngest children (0-2) incurred about 100 times greater risk at the hands of step- parents than genetic parents." The authors, Professors Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, also discovered that this vast discrepancy was true regardless of income brackets.

I can imagine some of you, who might be devoted step-parents, recoiling at this correlation; but the word "step-parent" covers a very wide range of circumstances. On the one hand there are extended families in which the mother will have had perhaps two marriages, each lasting about 20 years; these can be regarded as stable homes. On the other hand, there are the homes in which the mother has a succession of itinerant boyfriends, none of whom has any interest in the welfare of such children as might be under their feet: indeed the children would be actively resented, as a distraction from the only purpose for which he finds his girlfriend useful.

We are now well into the second generation of such British "homes", and so we have incontrovertible evidence that the most lethal of these men (and the most unmaternal of these women) tend most typically to be the products of similar ménages.

In this context, it is truly astounding that the Government sees nothing untoward in a benefits system which actively rewards what we might still be able to describe as "non-traditional families". I don't think that the answer to the breakdown of the nuclear family is to tilt the tax system sharply in favour of marriage – these are essentially moral rather than financial matters – but it is definitely perverse to do the opposite.

Perhaps the clearest example of this perversity was the Government's decision to warn Catholic adoption agencies that they faced prosecution under discrimination laws unless they dropped their insistence that children in care should be assigned to married couples. An independent report two years ago noted that the Catholic agencies, while frequently taking on the most difficult cases, have a much more successful record than the average in avoiding "failed" placements. This demonstrates with peculiar clarity that for all its talk about "putting children first", the Government is much more interested in pursuing its "anti-discrimination" agenda.

I am not, as it happens, a Christian; but it is simply a fact that the great 19th-century campaigns against drunkenness and depravity on the streets of Britain would have been unimaginable without the involvement of the churches, notably those of an evangelical disposition. There is need of a similar re-moralisation today, although I doubt very much that it could come from our established church.

The Chaplain-General to the Prison Service, the Venerable William Noblett, recently agreed to the refusal of accreditation to an American Christian outreach group which had achieved extraordinary results in preventing recidivism; he followed the advice of the British Prison Service's "Area Psychologist" who criticised the program, called InnerChange, because its belief that "the root of offending is in individual sin" did not have a "basis in specific scientific research".

Barack Obama has frequently attested to the vital role of independent churches in rescuing countless African Americans from lives of rootless dependency; yet in Britain it continues to be believed by those in power that only the state can rescue our underclass from its repetitive cycle of squalor. So it's always going to be addressed by more and "better" rules for social workers, and an even more dedicated bureaucratic drive towards "best practice" as prescribed by Lord Laming and the Children's Secretary Ed Balls.

When the next "Baby P" case happens – and there will be a next one – we will go through yet another spasm of sacking social workers while the politicians and police duck for cover.

I'd like to say that this can not go on; but of course it can and will, until the state and all its lawmakers admit defeat and allow a moral crisis to be addressed by moral means.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise  

The UK economy may be back on track, but ordinary people are still being left behind

James Moore
The Independent journalist James Moore pictured outside Mile End underground station in east London  

The true cost of being disabled goes far beyond just the physical

James Moore
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform