It Needs To Be Stopped. Full Stop
The Guardian, February 19, 2002
The NSPCC is far more concerned with filling its coffers than protecting vulnerable children
The NSPCC obviously thinks there's no such thing as bad publicity. Yesterday the NSPCC's director, Mary Marsh, gave her closing statement to the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, brutally murdered by her great-aunt and her boyfriend in February 2000.
It was the last chance for Britain's leading childcare charity to come clean. Victoria had been referred to an NSPCC-run family centre in north London seven months before her death, by which time she was being regularly beaten, trussed up in a bin bag and left in freezing baths. No one from the centre went to see her. The inquiry wants to know why.
But yesterday these matters seemed of scant concern to Marsh. After glancing over to Climbié's parents and saying "I'm very sorry", she took little more than 10 minutes to explain how they so catastrophically mishandled Victoria's case.
The rest of her allotted half hour was spent outlining the restructuring and extolling the virtues of her organisation. Attention was drawn to the NSPCC's £3m Saatchi Full Stop campaign. As if addressing a fundraising dinner, Marsh pronounced: "It's our mission to end cruelty to children," words that must have rung very hollow with Victoria's watching family.
Mary Marsh's cynical attempt to use the inquiry as a publicity platform is no surprise. Self-promotion is, after all, what the NSPCC is all about. Last year, just £36m of its annual £82m budget was spent on direct services to children; much of the rest went on publicity and campaigning. The efficacy of these efforts is questionable. The NSPCC has been around since 1884, but the level of child abuse has remained constant. Yet posters in bus shelters, rather than hands-on help, is the charity's preferred way of tackling child abuse. Last autumn, they closed 16 child protection schemes. The centre which so failed Victoria has been shut down. It seems that the national body of the NSPCC hopes the case against them will be similarly dismissed.
But when the self-proclaimed protector of children is party to one of the worst child abuse cases known in Britain, we should demand proper answers. The NSPCC has compounded its failure to help a tortured child with its failure properly to examine its own actions. Asked to submit original documentation, the NSPCC presented the inquiry with photocopies of Victoria's records, with staff names blanked out, claiming the original paperwork was lost.
Only under pressure did those originals then appear, with different wording to the copies. The copy was marked "accepted for ongoing service"; the original "no further action". Marsh dismissed this seeming discrepancy as "confusion with documentation", claiming "at no time did the NSPCC attempt to alter records in any way". Others have called it a "cover up", claiming that once Victoria died the NSPCC doctored her records to hide their own failings.
Marsh herself is very precise with her language; the reason she gave for staff not acting on the referral was because they were preoccupied in organising a "community event", otherwise known as a party. Other accusations simply remain unanswered. Why didn't the NSPCC even know it was involved until January 2001, almost a year after Victoria's death and when the criminal trial was already under way? (During the trial, Marsh was quick to call for total overhaul of child protection procedures, not realising that her own organisation was implicated.) In the same month that Victoria was referred to the centre, another child known to them was brutally killed. Haringey social services, in no way blameless themselves, recommended that procedures at the centre be investigated. With another tragic death so fresh in their minds, why didn't the NSPCC act more swiftly in Victoria's case? The subsequent internal management review was not conducted by an independent party, as is required by the Children Act. Ironically, the NSPCC flouted the very guidance they were so instrumental in drawing up.
But the NSPCC seems to have lost all sense of what is important in the fight against child abuse. The size of their coffers is what concerns this charity. The Full Stop campaign has raised almost £100m, with a target of more than twice that amount. Go to the NSPCC website, and the home page is about how to make donations. A spokesperson for the NSPCC came to my daughter's school and gave a talk about cruelty to children and what her wonderful organisation was doing to tackle it.
The nice lady gave each child a leaflet, which my daughter brought home. It asked the bearer to raise £50 to help alleviate the atrocities they had heard about. My daughter was eight years old. Perhaps her pocket money would be spent, not helping other children, but to pay for the NSPCC's legal defence at the Climbie inquiry, costing £50,000.
In her closing statement, Marsh made much of the restructuring the NSPCC has undergone as a result of Victoria's death. But this avaricious organisation, inflated by its own sense of self-importance, doesn't need to be restructured: it needs to be dismantled. The NSPCC has grown too big for its boots. It needs to be stopped. Full stop.
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