Case shows Constitution not to blame for failure to help vulnerable children

A new report on the death of a seven-year-old girl, Khyra Ishaq (pictured), due to months of abuse at the hands of her mother and her boyfriend Junaid suggests that social services in her home town of Birmingham could have prevented the tragedy.

The report finds that her death could have been prevented, and occurred after the authorities ”lost sight” of her.

Social workers became reluctant to get more heavily involved in the case after Khyra’s mother, Angela Gordon made a complaint of harrassment, the report said.

The details of Khyra’s death are harrowing, but the findings of the report are worth noting for this reason: the lack of intervention by social services here had nothing to do with a Constitutional provision, or with an excessive respect for marriage. Instead, what we find is that the social workers responsible for looking out for Khyra failed to do so.

Despite a series of reports of the inability of our present system of care for vulnerable children to cope, there are continued calls for a referendum on children’s rights to make it easier to place children, specifically the children of married parents, in that very system.

Those calling for this referendum say that the current Constitution makes it too difficult for social workers to take the children of married into care.

But the example of Khrya Ishaq, together with the earlier Baby P tragedy in the UK and numerous cases involving our own system of care for vulnerable children, show that constitutional provisions and laws are not the deciding factors when it comes to taking care of children.

The UK has no constitution. The threshold that the State has for intervening in any kind of family to protect a child is set by Parliament, and is certainly flexible enough to have permitted social workers to have intervened in the case of Khyra Ishaq.

Similarly in this jurisdiction, in a recent case of serious child abuse in Roscommon, there was no question that the Constitutional provision protecting the married family was what prevent the local health authority from intervening.

Instead, we are looking at a failure on the part of the social services in the specific cases in question. Changing the constitution won’t impact at that level.