In Britain at least, the news stories have been made even darker by the unfolding story of the death of little Daniel Pelka, a boy of a mere four years who was tortured and murdered by his mother and her partner. Like all of these sorts of stories, this one finds its way under the toughest of skin as we try hard not to imagine how a little boy felt as he subjected to terminal harm at the hands of the people who should have protected him. They starved him, imprisoned him and brought such harm to him that all he knew was suffering and eventually death - the only freedom left for him.
As a father to young daughters, it is in imagining Daniel's pain that I find myself on the edge of tears, left wondering how such a catalogue of tragedies might unfold for one so vulnerable and small. It is a pain that many now feel as a nation grieves for a little boy whom it never know except my virtue of the nature of his death.
What is also noticeable is the near-inevitable unfolding of the blame game. How did this agency miss it, or that? How did the injuries go un-noticed or the behaviour that might have betrayed an abused child? Whose fault was it? The teachers? The police? Social Services? The local authorities? Each blames the other and each dances away from blame, and all fingers are pointing. Despite their life sentence, it seems to remain unspoken that the blame for the death of little lad lays in the hands of his mother and her choice of partner. It was her fault.
This is where a new problem arises. It is now precipitating calls for an assumed state of suspicion - that all authorities should start to assume the worst instead of the best in the cases of children. At the face it, it seems fair enough, too. Yes, it grievous when children die in their own homes, and more so by the hand of a parent (and, I venture to say, when that parent is a mother for whom I would have imagined such a crime to be even less likely). What this revised state of perspective does is accepts that harm comes to children and effectively turns parents into latent suspects. If my daughter falls awkwardly on the trampoline whilst playing with her sister and sustains a bruise, should I expect social services at my door? And what if I can't prove that I didn't batter my baby? Am I, by default, a child abuser?
The statutory authorities were guilty of something else entirely. They were guilty of not believing that a mother could kill her own child. Yes, cases exist and children have been killed by parents, even mothers. However, it is also the case that more children by a long way have been killed by cars on roads or even by bugs in hospitals. On the whole, in the main, in the great majority of cases, children are safe with their parents. I worry that in seeking to protect children, the authorities might start to undermine the very protective agency that most children depend upon for safety, their family. Families may well cease to be perceived as havens of hope and safety, becoming the new arena for harm and death. Are we throwing out the baby with the bath water here?
I sense, and I fear, that in the wake of the human tragedy that is personified in the little blond Daniel Pelka, we will start to see draconian over-reactions emerge because people who work to protect children will see ghosts behind every door, and with a healthy sense of self-preservation, may well kill hope.
For now, I pray for the little life so cruelly extinguished by people who I cannot claim to understand. He was their precious gift and they squandered him like a disposable pleasure. I am glad that he is free of the terror found at home, and I glad that he is in a place of such beauty and peace where his value is recognised.