‘SCURVY DEATH BOY LESSONS’
LESSONS still need to be learned after the death of an “invisible” eight-year-old boy who died with scurvy nearly a decade ago, the Children’s Commissioner has said.
Nine years after Dylan Mungo Seabridge died suddenly at home in Pembrokeshire, Sally Holland told the Western Mail that his tragic case is still important for reminding us that some children can “slip under the radar”.
Dylan’s parents, Julie and Glynn Seabridge, were charged with child neglect after it emerged their son had been home educated and had never seen a doctor or dentist in his short life.
He died of scurvy, an “easily preventable disease”, at the family’s home near Crymych, Pembrokeshire, but despite showing symptoms the couple told police they thought Dylan had “growing pains”.
Dylan had not been seen by the authorities for seven years, leading to calls that all home-educated children should be subsequently made known to officials – and the Welsh Government pledged to change the law.
But in June this year, the Welsh Government said “unprecedented pressures” on its day-to-day work meant this would not be possible before the 2021 election.
Children’s Commissioner Sally Holland said she understood the pandemic was affecting the workings of government, but there was “a duty to safeguard the rights and welfare of children and young people”. She is now holding a review into the response following Dylan’s death.
Ms Holland said: “The Seabridge case was a uniquely tragic case at the time and the community was shocked and surprised about how this little boy had not been known outside the family. He was known to be there by some authorities but hadn’t been seen or visited. It’s an important case still today for reminding us that some children do slip under the radar of public services and society.”
The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue a case of neglect against Dylan’s parents, Julie, 46, and Glynn, 47, after both weren’t considered fit enough to stand trial.
A child practice review published in 2016 said it was “tragic that there are many references that the child was ‘invisible’.”
It led to the Welsh Government developing legislation which would require councils to create a database to identify children not on a school register. But this has been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving Ms Holland worried that progress could stall.
“For years, we’ve made repeated calls to improve the legal framework to protect these children’s rights and have been particularly concerned about the Welsh Government’s response to the death of Dylan Seabridge in 2011,” she said. “At the moment, home education throughout the UK is very unregulated, compared to the rest of Europe... If I don’t look at this decision, I’m afraid nobody will and it will get dropped.”
She would like to see home education council databases rolled out across Wales.
Although she admitted it was rare to pursue a change of law based on just one case, she said the Seabridge case had given rise to “an important report” and the government had “pledged to respond to that”.
“It’s more for any other Seabridges out there,” she said. “Using the learning from that case, I continue to have concerns.
“Of course, it doesn’t mean every home-educated child is at risk. There are a large number thriving in those circumstances. But it is extraordinary in Wales and the UK that you don’t have to inform anyone of your decision to educate your child at home.”
A formal report and recommendations will result from this work in the new year.
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “There are unprecedented pressures on day-to-day work within the government as a result of the public health emergency. This means that difficult decisions have to be taken to ensure frontline services are supported in response to the national crisis.
“We remain committed to children’s rights in Wales and to ensuring children in Wales receive a suitable education.
“Local authorities remain under a duty to ensure that all children in their locality are receiving a suitable education regardless of where that is delivered.”