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Darryn Clarke

Volume 973: debated on Thursday 8 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when the report of the committee of inquiry into the case of Darryn Clarke will be published; and if he will make a statement.

The report of the committee appointed by my predecessor to inquire into the actions of the authorities and agencies relating to Darryn James Clarke has been published today—Cmnd. 7730.This was a particularly tragic case, not only because of the cruel injuries inflicted on Darryn but also because, despite the efforts of some members of his family to alert the authorities to his plight, timely action was not taken to save him. I hope that all professionals working with children will benefit from the lessons which can be learnt from this case and which have been highlighted in the report.The report concentrates on the period from 7 December 1977, when the Clarke family's suspicions were first aroused, to 21 January 1978 when Darryn died. It chonicles in detail the responses of the officers of the Merseyside constabulary, of the Liverpool social services department, of the Liverpool area health authority (teaching) and of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to the relatives' reports of their fears for Darryn's safety. It identifies a number of shortcomings, both in the procedures used at that time by the authorities and agencies involved, and also in the responses of individual workers.There are a number of lessons to be learnt from this tragedy. The first is the need for all cases of possible child abuse to be investigated swiftly and efficiently by the individual professional workers concerned; another is the importance of establishing the facts in a case and eliminating misunderstandings when information is passed from one worker or agency to another; a third is for all those working in different agencies to co-operate to the full in the investigation and treatment of such cases. Nothing can take the place of prompt and careful work in examining the facts and taking appropriate action; it is essential that all professionals working with children should be aware of, and alert to, indications of possible child abuse.My Department has over recent years issued extensive guidance on the subject of child abuse and this is generally endorsed by the committee. I am, however, considering the question of further guidance on the operation of child abuse registers. Although registers—and other administrative procedures—can never be a substitute for good professional judgment and practice, a satisfactory register system should be an effective aid to the management of cases of child abuse. The need for such a system to operate efficiently is one of the points made in the report.My Department will be discussing the report with officers of the Liverpool city council, the Liverpool area health authority (teaching) and the NSPCC and examining with them what action they propose to take in the light of the Committee's findings. I am also sending the report to all local and health authorities and area review committees so that they may consider the lessons which it offers for their practice and procedures. My Department's social work service development group is about to start a longterm project in partnership with local authorities in the North-West of England with a view to improving the quality of child care. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will also be considering the report in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.I am most grateful to the members of the committee, Mr. J. Hugill, QC (Chairman), Mr. J. Chant, Professor D. Hull and Miss M. E. Lindars, OBE, for devoting so much time and energy to inquiring into this sad case.