The murder of Daniel Pelka occurred five years ago today, on 3rd March 2012 in Coventry. Daniel, aged 4, died of a head injury, but as we now know, that was but the final blow in a life that was drawn to a callous and vicious end by the very adults in his life who should have done the exact opposite.
I wrote in a blog post the following year that it didn’t take much analysis to see where the collective culpability for Daniel’s prolonged, agonising, death lay. Of course, it began with his mother, Magdalena Łuczak, and her partner, Mariusz Krężołek, who ‘starved the child, beat him, locked him in a room, force-fed him salt, and put his head underwater in the bath. He weighed only one stone nine pounds (10.4 kg) when he died.’ (Source: Wikipedia). It is they who murdered him.
Tried, convicted, and then jailed for life with a minimum sentence of 30 years each, as they absolutely deserved to be. The case shocked me deeply, in part due to startling similarities with my own early life suffering and torture before entering care. It greatly challenged my position on the death penalty. In the event, both committed suicide in prison, serving just a tenth of their respective sentences. Cowards.
There is no social worker’s ‘crystal ball’.
For most of my career, I have worked with, or around social workers, and in fact, had a number of my own when I grew up in care in the eighties. On this fifth anniversary of Daniel’s death, I am, today, going to stand in the social work profession’s defence. It is so very easy to throw around blame, like confetti, without effort to substantiate careless accusations and ill-directed anger, or even, dishonestly, to publicly nurse a personally held resentment, wrapped up in the pretence of concern for the issue at hand.
Today, I share, and ardently defend my direct, personal, observation, over years, of my colleagues’ resilience and sheer graft, as they manage, as best the possibly can, their relentless and grinding, but enduring, life-changing, and sometimes life-saving, yet often maligned work. I must pay due credit to my colleagues, who I view as our ‘national army’ of children’s social workers for the immensely valuable work they do, hour after hour, every day, week, month and year.
Though now with less bitterness and anger than in 2013, still, as I did then, I take aim, directly, at Daniel’s school. When news of poor Daniel’s death broke, everyone seemed to be asking the same question: ‘how could anyone watch this desperate little boy eat out of bins, and then look the other way?’
But still, five years later, I wonder how school teachers, who saw Daniel every day, who knew he was stealing out of his classmates’ lunch boxes (as I did as a child, because my father and step mother gave me virtually nothing to eat), who saw his weight plummet, his bruises, his pale, sickly appearance, and the many other signs of abuse that anyone with a grain of human awareness would have spotted: why did no one make Daniel’s plight a personal, human, mission to find out what was going on and protect this little boy at all costs?
Daniel. Gone, and forgotten.
This poignant anniversary has, apparently, been forgotten by our mainstream media that would have been expected to reflect today upon Daniel’s short life and what impact his life of torture and eventual murder may have had upon emphasising teachers’ roles in remaining vigilant to, and acting upon, suspected child abuse. The Guardian? Nothing. Community Care? Nothing. Children & Young People Now? Nothing. Their collective silence is deafening; a conspicuous and shameful oversight from titles that claim to speak up for the best interests of vulnerable kids and young people.
Even if it turned out to be wrong, even if it upset everyone, colleagues, and the parents, even if a job was lost because of it, wouldn’t it have been for the noblest of human instincts? What, in life, is more important than protecting our young? As unfathomable as it is to me, as I’m sure it is to readers of this article, whatever it was that caused Daniel’s school teachers to fail to decisively act upon what they saw, they were the people who knew what was going on. Perhaps today’s absence of Daniel’s tragic story in the media comes from the same emotional origin: apathy.
Children’s social workers are too often predictable ‘fair game’ for lazy journalists and their ceaseless media bullying. The following points of fact may escape their attention, but not mine. Firstly, social workers are people, and they aren’t psychic. Their work is guided by professional analysis, experience, and the wisdom of colleagues but they can only act upon what is brought to their attention.
Take it from me that there is no circling ‘child abuse radar’ within social services departments that is ignored in favour of a tea break. There are people trying their damned hardest to keep their heads above water whilst rescuing kids from harm inflicted upon them with sickeningly creative sadism.
Secondly, stating the obvious, social workers don’t work in classrooms. Teachers do. Teachers, who, in my view, had, and have a moral duty in our society to protect our children. This is emphasised by the additional restraint placed upon our educators when it comes to personal relationships between they and students.
Do Fostering is on a mission.
Since Daniel’s unspeakably cruel and preventable death, I went on to set up Do Fostering. It’s growing, from a small foster carer recruitment consultancy, to a national resource, through this website, with a clear mission to connect prospective foster carers with local fostering agencies and achieve full national care placement sufficiency.
Some doubt that this can ever be achieved. Maybe they are right, but I’m not dissuaded. I say let’s aim for the skies, and we’ll hit the treetops (a motto of one of my foster-mothers). It’ll be a collaborative effort, however it is achieved. But, together with you, we will achieve it.
Nine thousand children who are waiting for loving foster homes, today, are depending upon me, you, as readers of this article, children’s social workers, fostering agencies large, medium and small, foster carers with six months’ or 30 years’ experience, and people who are today considering picking up the phone for the first time to chat about fostering. In the words of Avis, a foster carer of three decades’ experience from southwest London: ‘Just go for it!’
Our founder, Sean Parry, speaks to Dame Esther Rantzen, DBE, president of Childline, part of the NSPCC, at a fundraising event in 2016 at Buckingham Palace, in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex, GCVO, patron of Childline and president of the NSPCC. Image credit: Photograph taken and kindly donated to Do Fostering free of charge by Casey Gutteridge, at http://cpgphotos.com
As the founder of Do Fostering, and together with my longstanding colleague, Duncan Bradford, at DoFostering.com, our standpoint is clear:
‘If you consider yourself to be a responsible member of society, then we all share a moral obligation to report what we suspect, and never to turn a blind eye. What, after all, is more important in life, than protecting our young?’
We believe that everyone can play a part in protecting our vulnerable children and young people, and that if you suspect child abuse, to report it. You can do this by contacting the children’s services department of your local authority, or the police, or a GP or nurse, a class teacher or head teacher, or through NSPCC Childline, a cause I actively, personally, support, which offered me a lifeline in 1986, when launched by Esther Rantzen, and to which DoFostering.com aims to make a financial donation in 2017.
To Daniel, I might just be one guy, miles away, in London, a city you’d perhaps never even heard of, but the work I do today is, at least in part, in your memory. The similarities in some of our experiences give me personal reasons for that, but today is about you Daniel, not me.
Rest in peace, little man.