Child Abuse and Social Work: A Case Study2008The case of Kimberley Harte, 23 and her partner, Stephen Duncan, 26, from Maida Vale, London shocked the United Kingdom when, in 2007, they were convicted with 11 years and half and 10 years and half imprisonment respectively for physically abusing their child inflicted with mild cerebral palsy. The case was also the more heart-wrenching since it brought to light the serious failings of the social work agencies who were entrusted with the job of ensuring that the child led a healthy life. The child was born prematurely that caused her cerebral palsy.
Soon after birth, she was taken up for care on charges of domestic violence but before she could be found an adopted home, the social workers gave her back to the birth parents on the basis of a report of the Westminster Council. The social workers did little to follow up on the case till the grandmother of the child grew suspicious. There were 20 home visits by social workers but they failed to detect any wrongdoings although the court found the child to have been abused within a month of her return (BBC, 2007). The court found that the child was returned to the birth parents even when the foster parents expressed their worries over the child’s distress.
Although the couple denied having caused physical injury on the child by intent, the court found them guilty of causing bodily harm at least three times. Boiling water was poured over her hands; hair was pulled and ripped from her head; she was kicked hard in the groin, causing internal injuries; she was locked up naked in the bathroom every night and forced to eat her own faeces.
The court found the case to be the most horrible one of child abuse. The case brought to light not only the darker side of human mind but also the haste and carelessness that social workers often take decisions with. Despite the fact that the parents visited the child only rarely as she spent the first seven months of her life in the hospital and that she had to be taken up by a foster family soon after, the Westminster Council and the charity, NCH, delayed on the adoption process and believed that the couple had reformed after undergoing a domestic violence intervention program.
Even after returning the child to them, the social workers’ visits found nothing wrong. Typical of such cases, they did not see the child in person in most visits as she was supposedly out with the father. Even when they did see the child, they believed that the injuries were results of accidents (Kirby, 2007). The Harte-Duncans case has a close similarity with the Victoria Climbie case in 2000, when the death of the eight year old girl as a result of abuse induced the laws in Britain to be stricter and the Every Child Matters program initiated by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The case is all the more similar because the victims of child abuse were known to the social workers in most cases yet they failed to prevent it. The Every Child Matters program covers all vulnerable children in United Kingdom, believing that this will prevent child abuse through monitoring.
But, this does not take into account severely vulnerable children or those who are unable to communicate their problems for disability or any other reason (Kilby, 2007). Besides, the hesitation of the social workers in freeing the child for adoption reflects the social attitude that biological parents are preferred than adoption, even when the former are abusive and known to be prone to domestic violence. In most cases, the children who are taken up by social workers are handed over to a series of foster carers rather than found a permanent adopted home and finally returned to the biological parents.