Up to four children die each week in England from abuse or neglect, according to official figures that reveal the alarming scale of the problem.
The damning report by Ofsted makes clear that the death of Baby P was far from an isolated tragedy. It found that 282 vulnerable children – many of them already known to social services – died in the 17-month period to the end of August. A further 136 suffered serious harm or injury.
Two thirds of those killed or hurt were babies less than a year old.
Children’s charities had previously estimated that one child died from cruelty each week.
It is the first time that Ofsted, which regulates children’s services in England, has examined the issue of children at risk. Its findings suggest that hundreds of abused children are at risk because councils are failing to learn promptly from previous deaths.
The report was presented yesterday by Ofsted’s chief inspector, Christine Gilbert. She said: “We are still not learning enough – or fast enough – from serious case reviews which happen when a child has died or been harmed through neglect or abuse.”
She referred to “recent tragic events in Haringey, and Manchester”, where two boys were murdered last week. Their mother has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. On Baby P she said: “I wish I could guarantee something so tragic couldn’t happen again, but I can’t. Although there have been improvements in the past few years, there is absolutely no room for complacency: everyone involved in child protection in any way must take stock of the role they play.”
Ofsted said that of 92 case reviews it had evaluated since April last year, 32 were judged to be inadequate. Only 20 were considered good. One review supposed to last four months had taken four years, Ms Gilbert said. Ofsted is expected publish a detailed report into 50 serious case reviews this month.
Tim Loughton, the Shadow Children’s Minister, said: “The figures for the number of child deaths given in this report are alarmingly high. Despite the avalanche of child protection legislation and reorganisations of social services departments, the underlying problem is no less diminished.”
David Laws, the Liberal Democrats’ children’s spokesman, said: “This report makes some deeply concerning criticisms of child protection services. It is now all too clear that the lessons of the Victoria Climbié case have not been learnt.”
Yesterday Sabah al-Zayyat, the doctor accused of failing to spot Baby P’s broken back and eight broken ribs, said that she had been deeply affected by the circumstances of his death.