Social workers at Brighton and Hove Council’s children services
are threatening strike action over the suspension of two social
workers following the death of four-year-old John Smith at the
hands of his adoptive parents.
Last week around 100 social workers demonstrated outside the
council offices before moving into the director’s office and
demanding the social workers are reinstated.
The protest was finally defused when social services director
Allan Bowman agreed to meet social workers the following day with
council leader Ken Bodfish. At the meeting, Bowman promised staff
that there would be an investigation into the social workers’
actions before any disciplinary measures were taken.
Dave Pameley, who was in charge of John Smith’s case, and
adoption worker John Barrow were suspended following the child’s
death, pending a court case. Last week, Simon and Michelle
McWilliam were convicted of cruelty to their adopted son.
Kevin Byrne, co-convenor of Unison at Brighton Council, said
Pameley and Barrow were being scapegoated when in fact a lack of
resources and management mishandling were to blame.
“All front line child protection social workers have no
confidence in the senior management of the social services
department to run the service properly,” he said.
But Bowman insisted the investigation was essential because of
the severity of the case as the summary of the part 8 review into
John’s care and protection says social workers made mistakes.
The report says: “While a major reduction in fieldwork posts and
weaknesses in first-line management systems in Brighton and Hove
social services contributed, to differing degrees, to the pressures
under which social workers one and three were working, the critical
failures in this case were not in resourcing systems, but in the
performance of basic social work tasks.”
It also makes a series of recommendations, which the council
said it has taken on board. More basic information is now required
from prospective adopters including birth certificate, employment
status, driving licence, next of kin and addresses for the previous
The report’s author notes: “Currently in the UK, more
documentary evidence is required when an individual is seeking a
mortgage than when they are adopting a child.”
The review finds that a more thorough, objective and evidence
based assessment of the McWilliams would have stopped the couple
getting into the system. Investigations into Mr McWilliam’s past
experience as a parent would have resulted in the process being
Bowman concluded: “All the agencies involved have learned
lessons and are implementing major improvements in the way we look
after children in our care.”