In 1974, following the death of Maria Cowell, there was a realization that the lack of coordination between child protection services imperiled the child. Hence Area Child Protection Committees (ACPC) were created for the purpose of ensuring greater coordination. In 1989, the Children Act came into force. One of its aims was to provide "a consistent framework for regulating all forms of substitute care"2. In 1991, the "Working Together Under the Children Act" was passed, which granted investigatory powers to the ACPC to look into cases of child abuse. The Victoria Climbie affair opened citizens' eyes on how laws and policies are insufficient to protect children against abuse and maltreatment. Entrusted by her parents in the Ivory Coast to her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao so that she could be given a better life in the United Kingdom, little Victoria instead found herself in the hands of sadists --- Kouao and her boyfriend Carl Manning. When she died on 25 February 2000, she had 128 separate injuries on her body, cigarette burns, scars where she had been hit by a bike chain and hammer blows to her toes.3 The investigation also disclosed that she was forced to sleep in the bin liner in the bath. Hers is 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 late4. The inquiry revealed that there were as many as 12 opportunities were the authorities could have intervened, but failed to.5
Indeed, child abuse is an issue of grave importance, and maltreatment, something more complex than we think6.
But instances of child abuse and maltreatment are not the only areas where the State has recognized the need for its intervention. Worthy of note is the fact that children are the paramount consideration of British Law when it comes to the determination of financial arrangements of a divorced couple7. To quote from the Matrimonial Causes Act:
It shall be the duty of the court in deciding whether to exercise its powers under section 23, 24 or 24A above and, if so, in what manner, to have regard to all the circumstances of the case, first consideration being given to the welfare while a minor of any child of the family who has not attained the age of eighteen.
This is because of the recognition of the fact that children are the most vulnerable parties during the aftermath of a divorce and it is but right to give their needs - psychological, emotional, financial - primacy. Indeed, the costs of divorce are tremendous for a child.8 Hence, the court should use its parens patriae powers to cushion the devastating effects of marital discord. Also worthy of mentioning in this regard is the Children Act of 1989, which sets guidelines for courts to follow in coming up with orders that will impact on the child's