The investigation also disclosed that she was forced to sleep in the bin liner in the bath. And yet, it is also the story of institutions that have failed our children, a bureaucracy that has neglected the most vulnerable members of our society, and individual officials whose individual omissions have resulted in collective negligence. In the hearings subsequent to the death of Victoria Climbie, it was discovered that she was seen by dozens of social workers, medical practitioners, and police officers but all of them failed to either detect signs of abuse or failed to act on them until it was too late. The inquiry revealed that there were as many as 12 opportunities were the authorities could have intervened but failed to.
For example, when Dr. Mary Schwartz, a pediatrician, looked at Climbie’s cuts wounds, she dismissed it as scabies and sent her back home to her abusers. Police officer Karen Jones refused to inspect the home of the Kouao and Manning, where Climbie lived because she was afraid she would catch scabies from the furniture. Bickering and backstabbing the child protection service in the Haringey area had also contributed to the failure to provide an immediate and adequate response to the abuse. Despite a major tell-tale sign, i.e., Victoria was not enrolled in school, which is one of the indicators that abuse could be taking place, social workers took the word of Manning and Kouao at face value and did not probe any further.
Though Victoria’s abusers were eventually sent to jail and sentenced to life imprisonment, the hard questions still remain. How could this kind of abuse – so horrible and grotesque – to a child of tender years have gone undetected? Is the system so decrepit, so shot full of holes that despite many warning signs and many opportunities to save Victoria’s life, she still ended up battered and dead, with 128 injuries on her frail body? And perhaps the most troubling question of all: could this happen again? Dare we allow this to happen again?