Monday, 17 November 2008

Baby P and Kneejerk Reactions - A Letter to the Press

We must be wary in the tragic case of Baby P of making hasty headline friendly responses. Over 60 Haringey headteachers have pleaded for Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey's director of children's social services not to resign. Her resignation would be possibly the one event in the whole saga which would allow most people some small satisfaction.

So, are we to ignore this overwhelming support from highly qualified people who are in a better position than us to judge her? What would be the purpose of her resignation? Surely in hasty actions we are prejudging the results of any investigation? It seems to me there is a huge demand for heads to roll in national scandals of this nature. However it is very far from clear whose heads should roll in this matter. This is a very complex issue on which we are receiving contradictory stories. I heard that Haringey child protection officers have a caseload of 25 clients each against a recommended load of 12 cases but that the council denies that they are overloaded. We need to know the truth about many issues such as this before we can give valid opinions as to who or what we can hold responsible.

I fear too many policies have been driven by political point-scoring and media headlines rather than hard evidence. This matter needs to be taken more seriously than that. The impatience of the media and public for instant solutions must be resisted. Analysis of the findings of the investigation and the opinions of qualified professionals must be given their proper weight. This process must not be rushed.

How much are any failings in this case unique to Haringey and how much are they national failings?

In 21 years there have been more than 400 initiatives, strategies and acts of parliament affecting children and young people in the UK. But have governments allowed proper time to implement this "avalanche" of policies or are children and social workers failing to benefit from services that are subjected to such frequent changes in policy, funding and structure that are allowed little time to bed down.

Social workers are spending 60 to 80 per cent of their time in front of computer screens, typing up reports to meet targets. A focus on performance targets can detract from the 'real work'. 'Workers report being more worried about missed deadlines than missed visits.

What of staff morale? Imagine how stressful this work is. In London 15 per cent of social work posts are vacant. Improving the salary levels and conditions of employment of professional social workers, as a distinct occupational grouping, must be central to any major project to overcome problems of staff turnover and burnout.
This work is complex and difficult and we must recognize that risk cannot be eliminated. Sadly some people will continue to kill and seriously harm their children. Not every tragedy can be prevented but we must continue to strive to do so - History suggests that this kind of message doesn't tend to get much of a hearing at times like these, but we will see.

Haringey council has invested council tax payers’ money in gagging a former social worker who was whistle blowing. I would like to know why I am paying for this and what benefit the community is getting from this investment. Could this be on the advice of the same lawyer who advised social workers that the evidence Baby P was being abused was not strong enough to warrant removing the child from his mother.

Pete McAskie (pictured above)
Green Party Parliamentary Candidate
Hornsey & Wood Green

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