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Child Protection: The Statutory Failure

Date:30 APR 2009

Barry Wilkinson University of Leicester

The recent tragedy of Baby P highlights a problem which is beginning to appear regularly within the ongoing child protection debate. If the language of statute is framed only vaguely the assistance which it gives to users of the Children Act 1989 is inevitably limited and clarity is lost. Instead a broader range of discretion is conferred upon the judges thereby diminishing predictability of outcome. Where a court makes decisions as to the presence of significant harm or the status of a child in need only retrospectively and on a case by case basis those with responsibilities under the statute will be ill-served. How much assistance will be gained for example by a social worker who attempts to determine whether grounds for a child protection order exist and (if so) which order is best suited to address a particular problem? Equally if a family may be likely to benefit from services available under the Act in the event that its membership includes a child in need can that determination be made by...

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