This site is intended for health professionals only

How could it happen again?

As a new year approaches, Helen Lewis reflects on a recent tragedy that health and social services failed to prevent, and wonders whether we need to examine the values we hold as a society ...

A little boy who was visited by numerous health professionals and seen in hospital by a paediatrician died as a result of habitual abuse and neglect. At the centre of all of this is one council – the very same council that was supposed to protect little Victoria Climbie and which failed in spectacular fashion.

I was appalled and profoundly saddened by the news report that a baby could be treated in such a way, resulting in his young life being snuffed out like a candle. At first, the reports suggested Baby P's mum was no more than a teenager herself – not that that in itself is mitigation, but then it was confirmed that she was in her 20s and found motherhood to be boring! This apparently resulted in her spending extreme amounts of time on internet chat rooms while her little boy was left alone with her boyfriend.

So many times he had been taken to a place of potential safety, only to be handed back to his tormentors.

I appreciate that the head of social services has now been sacked and yet another serious case review is imminent, but how on earth could this absolute tragedy be allowed to happen? Children do not ask to be born. Regardless of the age of a parent, they have entered into a contract to nurture, love and look after their children, but when this is not naturally fulfilled there should be a safety net to help and support those parents facing such difficulties.

How did we as a society get to this? In years past, women were not expected to go out to work once they had children to look after. It could be argued that bringing up children is a fulltime occupation in itself. I have three beautiful children of my own – with 15 years between my eldest and youngest, and six years between my eldest and middle daughters, their needs and wants are as diverse as they are entertaining.

Following the end of the Second World War, women had become the main earners within the family and were reluctant to give up their new "freedom" to revert to relying on their husband's wages. Now we find ourselves in a situation where many women have no choice but to work fulltime, along with their husbands and partners, because consumerism has gone potty!

It is not my intention to end the year on a note of gloom and doom, but to leave you with this thought over the festive period: have we become so consumed by material things that we cannot, or will not, see the devastation it is causing to all of our lives and the lives of our most precious members – the children?

It has been said so many times over the past few weeks that this situation must not be allowed to happen again – the sad reality is that it could well happen again. Should our society re-examine its values and make a change for the better, the terrible tragedies in Haringey will be prevented in the future.

Have a lovely Christmas and New Year, and don't have nightmares.