THE Highland Child Protection Committee today (Tuesday) published the long-awaited report by Dr Jean Herbison, consultant paediatrician and lead clinician for child protection, Glasgow NHS Board, into the circumstances surrounding the death of 5 year old Danielle Mary Louise Reid in Inverness in November 2002.
Ian Latimer, Chairman of the Highland Child Protection Committee, who commissioned the report in April 2003, noted that Dr Herbison concludes that ‘there is little doubt that the violent death of this 5 year old girl was not directly preventable by any of the individuals concerned’.
He said: "In relation to national standards, policies and procedures, Highland agencies are compliant with 65 of the 68 recommendations supported by last year’s far-reaching inspection by HMIe, which concluded that ‘children and young people in Highland are well protected’.
He further stated: "Dr Herbison makes 68 recommendations that cover 23 issues. A total of 81 separate actions have been taken since 2002 to address these issues, and a further 36 actions have been initiated and are ongoing.
"Three recommendations remain outstanding, including a central helpline and a co-ordinated multi-agency audit, and form part of the present Child Protection Workplan which will be fully implemented by September of this year."
He stressed that many of Dr Herbison’s recommendations do not relate specifically to Danielle’s death or child protection services in Highland, but to her belief that there needs to be a national ‘change in our thinking about vulnerable children’. She states that Scotland requires cultural and legislative change, and a greater level of intervention in the lives of children and families than is presently sanctioned in legislation or Government policy, rather than what she regards as ‘misplaced defensiveness about intrusion into family life’.
Mr Latimer added: "We note Dr Herbison’s conclusion that this tragic death could not have been prevented by individuals employed by Highland’s child protection agencies. We also note the actions that she recommends, and provide, today, a full analysis of the many measures that have been taken since 2002."
With regard to Dr Herbison’s call for a change in national policy and legislation, he said: "The balance between managing risk by supervision and monitoring of behaviour and intrusion into family life is for wider society to form a view on, and for Government to legislate and set policy.
"These are matters which exceed the remits of the Highland child protection agencies. The Scottish Executive has recently set out its framework for "Getting it Right for Every Child", which has been widely welcomed, and it is this framework that the child protection agencies in Highland are now implementing."
Arthur McCourt, Chief Executive of The Highland Council, said the report from Dr Jean Herbison, would be considered by the Council at its next meeting on 4 May.
He said: "It is important in tragic events like this, that the activities of our public agencies are subject to independent review and that the outcome is made public. It is also important that we learn lessons to prevent a recurrence of a tragedy like this."
Mr McCourt confirmed that the Council had conducted its own management review, covering all the contacts the Council had with Danielle and her family. This review had flagged up improvements that could be made in practice, including changes to procedures regarding the transfer of pupils from one school to another. He welcomed the prompt action of the Executive, which had recently introduced a national system for co-ordinating checks on children missing from education, including a single identifier for every child.
Mr McCourt said: "With the HMIe child protection inspection, and a range of other inspections and audits, our services have come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Over this period, we have increased our workforce, refined policies and procedures and enhanced training. Our staff do an extremely difficult and challenging job very well and merit our full support."
He noted that, while Dr Herbison concluded that no individuals could have prevented Danielle’s death, she was critical of the adequacy of checks undertaken by Social Work Services, in response to a telephone call from a family member a year prior to Danielle’s death, in November 2001.
Checks were made at that time with Danielle’s nursery and health services, but no check was made with the police and no home visit undertaken.
Mr McCourt stated: "The Council has taken measures to ensure that checks are made with police and that a home visit, which includes seeing the child, is made in every case where significant concerns are raised about the safety of a child."
Chief Executive of NHS Highland, Dr Roger Gibbins, expressed the view of staff and managers across all Highland agencies: "Although there was nothing any of my staff could have done to prevent Danielle’s tragic death, we can’t be complacent and this report supports the approach we have been taking over the last few years to improve child protection in the Highlands.
"We have already implemented, or are in the process of implementing, all of the recommendations relating to the NHS. When they looked at our arrangements last year, HMIe Inspectors found the professionals from NHS Highland intervene appropriately to prevent abuse or neglect where there are risks in families. They also confirmed that effective help was also provided to children and young people recovering from abuse or neglect."
The HMIE Report is currently available at
www.northern.police.uk under "Child Protection Report 2005"
Dr Jean Herbison’s 196-page report, together with a 40-page response from the Child Protection Committee to the Scottish Executive, is available on Protecting Highland's Children website: http://www.protectinghighlandschildren.org/htm/hcpc.php