It is a desperately upsetting case for all concerned.
The killing of foster carer Dawn McKenzie, stabbed to death by a 13-year-old boy she was looking after in 2011, stunned social workers, foster carers and the public.
The incident is virtually without precedent. It was not prefaced by behaviour by the boy that might have served as a warning. It could not have been foreseen, so Glasgow Child Protection Committee (GCPC) has concluded in a serious case review.
To close the file on this incident without seeking to learn lessons from it, however, would clearly be to fail both Mrs McKenzie and the troubled boy who carried out the attack. To that end, the review highlights some depressing perennial themes, including resource shortages, understaffing and staff inexperience, which are all said to have had an impact.
Busy social workers did not visit the boy for two months after he had been placed with Mrs McKenzie.
There was also criticism of Glasgow City Council social work department and the children's panel members who dealt with the case for over-identifying with the boy's mother when it is the needs of the boy himself that are paramount in law and should have been their firm focus.
The report stresses the importance for professionals of being alert to cases that appear to be going better than might be expected. The child in this case had a background which included significant abuse. "The fact that he appeared relatively unscathed should probably have rung alarm bells," said the report.
This requires time for reflection, though, and time is what most social workers with their heavy caseloads do not have to spare.
Glasgow City Council insists that staffing has been "significantly enhanced" in the period since the incident occurred; that is welcome news. The fact remains, however, that local authority budgets have been under pressure for years, with no sign of a let-up. Can it be said by Glasgow and indeed councils around the country that their social work departments are as well-funded as they could or should be? There are many demands on public funding, but few trump services for vulnerable children and the adults who care for them. The importance of resourcing them properly cannot be overstated.
This matters for children, foster carers and social workers. It is sincerely to be hoped that potential foster carers are not put off by this extremely rare incident. Foster carers perform a vitally important role; their love and support can transform children's lives. They have a right to expect, however, that they and the child they are caring for will receive ongoing support.
The GCPC are right to share the conclusions of their report. While it is essential to protect the identities of the individuals involved, however, the GCPC must ask itself whether it was necessary to redact so much of it. Certain key questions remain unanswered including how much the carers were told of this child's background.
Adequate funding for social work departments and good ongoing support for foster carers: the public have a right to expect nothing less.
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