EVERYONE is shocked and saddened at news of the tragic death of Mikaeel Kular. His disappearance resonated not just around his neighbourhood in Edinburgh, but all over the UK, as an outpouring of community and public concern showed itself in the form of on the ground volunteer searches, missing person posters and social media campaigns.
What gets us through these emotional moments is our ability to cope, our resources, our resilience, our strategies and our support networks.
Not every child grows up in an environment where life skills are encouraged during their development, just as not every parent is equally equipped to cope with the challenges of raising children. While we do not know how pertinent these issues were to Mikaeel’s short life, we know that far too many vulnerable children are growing up in Scotland at risk of harm, abuse and neglect.
Children 1st was founded as the RSSPCC 130 years ago by people who were concerned at seeing children they knew being abused and neglected. What drove them was their desire to change things for vulnerable children, to provide them not just with the protection of the law, but also protection through the actions of communities and people.
Yet very often, people are unsure what to do if they have a concern about a child. Sometimes people are afraid that they’ll get it wrong, they’re afraid that they will break up a family, or are afraid of false allegations against them for getting involved.
In almost all of the high profile cases involving the death of a child in recent years, people within the community were concerned about that child’s well-being but either did not act, or felt they were not taken seriously when they did.
It is people, not procedures, that keep children safe, and all of us have a responsibility to protect Scotland’s children. We must all ask what we can do to keep the children we know or see safe, although it was heartening to see how many were moved to act when Mikkaeel went missing.
As professionals, we need to respond to concerns when they are expressed by members of the public and focus on prevention rather than reaction when working with parents. From the work Children 1st does with young children, we know that the most vulnerable families often need more specific supports, including help with parenting skills, family relationships, attachment and child development. For many vulnerable families, these are the kind of essential services which children need to have if they are to have a better start in life .
As we hear more about the life of Mikaeel Kular in the coming days, I urge everyone in Scotland to play their part in keeping other children safe by not ignoring a child’s cry for help or turning a blind eye to vulnerable children.
• Anne Houston is Chief executive of Children 1st