Editorial comment

Met’s step is a start

The Victoria Climbié Inquiry heard disturbing revelations
about police child protection work: poor or non-existent training,
low or even derided status within the police service, recruitment
problems, and lack of investment.

At least the Metropolitan Police are not waiting for the inquiry
report before taking action, and there is evidence that other
forces are watching reforms in London with interest.

One of the most positive initiatives to come out of the Met
since the inquiry began is the establishment this week of a
multi-agency London Child Protection Committee. We know that the
chance of any agency protecting Victoria Climbié became more
and more remote each time she moved: information was lost, and poor
communication between incompatible bureaucracies was fatal to any
chance of purposeful activity to protect her.

Better co-ordination across London will make it harder for those
intent on abuse to profit from the public sector’s over-rigid
and defensive approach to agency boundaries. Other regions would do
well to follow suit.

This London-wide initiative will also help ensure that all
agencies can learn from the best. In social services, we have
graphic illustration of the fact that best and worst practice sit
side by side: consider, for example, that London contains both half
of all social services departments awarded three stars by the
Department of Health, and nearly a third of all zero-star

Horrific as the revelations about all agencies involved in
Victoria’s case have been, we know that the system can and
does work well elsewhere.

Proof of a willingness to communicate and learn across agency
boundaries is desperately needed if there is to be even the
remotest chance of arguing against the creation of a new, national
child protection agency. For that argument rests on the need to
view and manage services for vulnerable and at risk families as a
spectrum. If the new London Child Protection Committee can’t
make a difference, that looks more and more like an unachievable,
impractical ideal.

Who inspects reviews?

The Victoria Climbié Inquiry has also raised crucial
questions about the way in which we monitor the performance of
social services departments.

The fact that the department at the centre of the case –
Haringey – received a glowing joint review months before
Victoria’s death must put the credibility of joint reviews in
question. How can a department that spectacularly fails to provide
a service to a child at risk be deemed to be doing a good job?
Witnesses to the inquiry used the glowing report to explain why
they believed Haringey’s children’s services were safe.
Is it possible to pull the wool over inspectors’ eyes?

The Department of Health, which commissioned the inquiry,
limited Lord Laming’s remit so he could not question the
joint review process in detail. So who is going to investigate how
inspectors got it so wrong? We must not stop at the limited
questions the inquiry is permitted to put to the chief inspector of
social services.

If a review system can’t pick up failing or dangerous
services, it cannot claim to be a safeguard for service users. It
can, of course, still claim to be a check on implementation of
government targets and priorities

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