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Monday, November 18, 2013

Hamzah Khan - a powerful child death that has so much to teach us

A Serious Case Review was published this past wee into the death in the UK of Hamzah Khan. She was profoundly neglect and when police entered the home, the partially rotted corpse was found. This is a disturbing case from several perspectives - a very unhealthy mother who was in no position to raise a child is a theme at the core of the this case.

The National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK summarized the SCR stating that the issues include:

Maternal history of: alcohol dependency; depression; social isolation; domestic abuse; and reluctance to engage with services. Issues identified include: invisibility of children to education and health services; failure to take into account the impact of domestic abuse on children; absence of enquiry into the cultural and religious complexity of the family;  insufficient significance given to disclosure by adolescents; lack of professional curiosity; insufficient interagency cooperation. Themes for learning include: cognitive influence and human biases; viewing incidents in isolation and failing to identify patterns that represent harm to children; and tools for effective sharing and analysis of information.

These are powerful lessons indeed. The Daily Mirror noted that it was a neighbourhood police officer responding to a neighbour's complaint who ultimately led to the discovery. The police officer was persistent - a behaviour that should be considered essential for those working in the areas of child abuse and domestic violence.  The Daily Mirror also quotes the SCR author stating:

Very sadly, I cannot give assurances that a tragedy like this will never happen again in our country - as we can’t control or predict the behaviour of all parents, the vast majority of whom are doing their very best to care for their children.
The reality is just that. Even the best of child protection systems will not prevent all deaths for quite a variety of reasons. These include that we cannot see into every house. As well, there are clients who feign cooperation but do not actually follow through with interventions. Then there are the cases where the parent behaves unpredictably or the interventions simply don't work.

Another SCR was published this past week in the UK that reminds us that domestic violence is intricalty connected to child abuse. Perhaps more importantly, is the reminder that these issues are not unique to the more disadvantaged populations. Child protection and other professions can develop a bias when approaching a family that is more advantaged and can have the appearance of success. The facts of the case need to be considered. As the NSPCC noted:

the need to remember that child abuse crosses all class and gender boundaries and to consider the potential impact of bias on evaluations

These cases remind us that errors can repeat themselves. Followers of this blog will see some familiar themes. Thus, we must continue these conversations and do so widely creating a broad reminder of what good practice can look like. 

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