news analysis of the joint reviews system after the controversy over the Haringey inspection

The 1999 joint review of Haringey social services has
been discredited. But was the review itself to blame, asks
Frances Rickford
, or was it merely

It must have been difficult for some people to resist smirking
last week as the joint reviews – so accustomed to asking the
questions and making the judgements themselves – were being called
to account by the Victoria Climbie‚ Inquiry.

The public lambasting which inquiry chairperson Lord Laming gave
to his successor as chief social services inspector, Denise Platt,
for delaying the submission of an internal review into the joint
review report on Haringey Council set the scene for an examination,
not only of Haringey’s joint review, but also of the internal
review and many of the beliefs and attitudes underlying both.

Laming’s decision to reconvene phase one of the inquiry to
consider the internal review meant the document became public for
the first time – something probably not anticipated either by the
authors or those who commissioned it.

Although the joint reviews and inspection processes are not
within the inquiry’s remit, inevitably the publication of the
internal review and close questioning of civil servants whose
professional culture is characterised by discretion and fudge has
raised important questions about the joint review procedures

Haringey’s joint review was published in November 1999, three
months before Victoria Climbie‚ died, although the field work
was conducted eight months earlier by lead reviewer Dennis Simpson,
formerly director of social services in Southwark, and Katherine

The joint reviews body, the responsibility of the Social
Services Inspectorate and the Audit Commission, press-released the
report with the headline “people of Haringey generally well
serviced by social services” – a conclusion reinforced by its
fourth annual report, ‘Promising Prospects’. In this, joint reviews
director John Bolton, without consulting the Haringey reviewers,
put Haringey in the top box marked “overall serving people well”
and with “good prospects of sustaining improvement”.

After the murder convictions of Climbie‚’s great aunt and
her partner, and the detail that emerged during the trial about the
circumstances of her death, questions were inevitably asked about
how a local authority with such a high-performing social services
department could have failed to protect Victoria.

Once the statutory inquiry had been announced, Platt and Audit
Commission controller Andrew Foster commissioned Jenny Gray, of the
SSI, and David Prince, director of operations at the Audit
Commission, to carry out an internal review of the joint review.
Neither had been involved in conducting any joint reviews. Prince
claims no expertise in children’s social services, but Gray is a
respected member of the SSI and was responsible for drafting the
Framework for Assessment of Children in Need.

The internal review’s terms of reference were to look at: how
the Haringey joint review’s judgements were reached on the basis of
the evidence it collected; the scope of the judgements reached in
relation to the joint review methodology; any lessons to be learned
in respect of the joint review team process; and any recommended
actions arising.

Both authors emphasised repeatedly in their evidence to Laming
that the focus of internal review was on the methodology of the
Haringey joint review, not its judgements.

But hindsight is a great gift and, as counsel to the inquiry
Neil Garnham suggested to Gray, the internal review comes close to
second-guessing judgements. For example, it says the joint review
team failed to “address the implications” of a growing number of
children and families referrals for a service under pressure. In
particular, it accuses the joint review team of failing to consider
whether a strategy of tightening eligibility criteria for services
was consistent with meeting statutory obligations to children under
the Children Act 1989 – less a methodological point perhaps than a
comment on the political and managerial consensus at the time that
“targeting” services was indeed the appropriate way to manage
scarce resources.

The original joint review is also criticised for failing to
examine enough case files of children classified as in need,
despite the team inspecting 35 files instead of the 30 specified by
the joint review procedures at the time.

Prince says in his witness statement that the Haringey joint
review was too focused on supporting management rather than giving
a true picture to local councillors of how well the local authority
was meeting its statutory responsibilities. “The joint review
should have left the council with a clearer agenda that would have
addressed the variable current performance within the trajectory of
future potential.”

Although there was a strong management team in place with a
clear vision, they all left Haringey almost as soon as the joint
review team were out of the door.

In his defence, Simpson argued that all the relevant information
was in the original joint review. But he conceded that if he were
writing it now he would place more emphasis on services and less on
management, particularly in the summary which he said should have
drawn more attention to the practice and service deficiencies in
the rest of the report.

The joint reviews were in their third year at the time the
fieldwork in Haringey was carried out, but at that time there was
no template for reviews, no formats for collecting the vast volume
of information that had to be collected, and no written criteria
for judgements to be made.

According to Bolton, changes have been made since then. “We have
done a lot of work,” he says. “We’ve introduced criteria for making
judgements, including a distinction between how services are now
and what they are going towards. We have also strengthened the role
of the assistant reviewer. We’ve introduced a common template and
tool kit for reviewers and we now select the files we look at
ourselves rather than leave the local authority to select them for

“We also have a stronger quality assurance system, with
assistant review directors involved in all sections of the reviews.
Criteria for judgements came on stream about a year after the
Haringey fieldwork, and we now have more guidance notes for
reviewers both on methodology and practice.”

Bolton agrees the joint reviews have a problem in measuring
unmet need at a local authority. For they have to review a social
services department’s performance in a way that takes account of
all the people who do not have case files because they cannot get
through the door or have not tried.

But the Joint Reviews body has always tried to see itself as a
changing and learning organisation, says Bolton, and some aspects
of the Haringey review were a function of the culture in the
organisation at the time. Early on, they had been seen as rather
distant and critical by local authorities, and then tried to create
a more helpful, developmental role. Now they have pulled back

But however adaptive they can show themselves to be, joint
reviews are doomed. There is to be no second round of joint reviews
and, by this time next year, the last local authorities in the
first round will be saying goodbye to their review teams, with
publication of the final reports by next autumn.

By the end of 2004, the new inspectorate, the Commission for
Social Care Inspection, is to come on stream incorporating the
National Care Standards Commission, the SSI and the joint reviews

Bolton predicts that the new organisation’s programme will be
very different from the joint reviews, with local authorities
getting different levels of inspection according to their perceived

He also anticipates a greater role for bodies that help councils
improve their performance, but that these will be separate from the
inspection function.

But, with 111 reviews published and six years’ experience,
Bolton hopes some aspects of the joint reviews body will be
retained. “We are not doing inspections of detailed services but we
do provide an overview of the big picture which can show whether
people are doing the right things and going in the right direction
to meet people’s needs.”

The question now is whether those at the new CSCI will share
Bolton’s “big picture”.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.