‘Broken families lie at heart of baby tragedy’

The horrific death of Baby P will trigger talk of social service reform, says Iain Duncan Smith, but the root of the problem is family breakdown.

Baby P died at 17 months old from the abuse inflicted on him by his mother and her boyfriend.

Social workers and doctors failed to detect his broken back, fractured bones and bruises even though he was examined just hours before his death.

“This shocking case should lead to yet another full-scale public inquiry,” Mr Duncan Smith writes in today’s Guardian.

“Yet all of this deals with the symptoms rather than the cause.

“Dysfunctional family life lies at the heart of the problem.

“Too many of our children are growing up in homes where their destructive lives are set by the time they are three, as a result of their upbringing.”

Married parents are less likely to abuse their children. According to one study, the incidence of child abuse was 20 times higher for children living with their cohabiting parents and 33 times higher among children living with their mother and her boyfriend compared to children living with their biological, married parents.

Mr Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, is the head of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think-tank.

He quotes a recent CSJ report which shows that one in four British children now lives in a single parent household, and that these children are three to six times more likely to suffer abuse.

“This problem is further aggravated,” he writes, “by the increasing phenomenon of non-biological guesting or substitute fathers.”

He adds: “Children living with their natural mother and a guest father are eight times more likely to be on the at-risk register.”

Mr Duncan Smith calls on “all political parties to put aside their differences to get to grips with this current crisis in care and to focus their attention on family breakdown”.