Interview with Lord Herbert Laming by Community Care
reporter Sally Gillen.
You were very critical of senior managers in your report,
but is it really realistic that a director, given all the other
pressures on them, could be aware of the situation in every child
I don’t expect that. What I am saying is that between
social services and frontline work there is effective supervision.
First of all staff should be properly supervised and monitored.When
I was a manager I would operate a system of no surprises. I
didn’t know about every single that was happening in my
department of course. What I expect is that people will keep more
informed about what happens between them and the frontline.
Isn’t the real problem one of lack of
Every agency should have in place a system which enables them to
evaluate the need in their area. It is unacceptable that frontline
staff are expected to deliver policies without the money. It puts
them in an impossible situation. I think that and I am prepared to
accept that services were under-resourced, but I am much, much more
convinced that bad practice can be costly. Had Ealing done the job
they should have done and done a proper assessment, the
circumstances would have been different.
Do you agree with some of the voluntary sector
commentators who are saying what really has to change is
society’s attitude towards children – as well as economic
migrants which of course is what Victoria was?
I do think that all the agencies need to give a much, much
higher priority to children. That is why I want a system dedicated
to the well-being of children and families.
What is your response to criticisms that the National
Agency and the local management boards you have recommended will
result in yet more needless bureaucracy?
I am surprised, and I hope that in time those who feel that will
change their view. What I am trying to create is a system with a
much clearer, sharper focus. I was pleased that Mr Milburn has
announced that guidance will be reduced by 90 per cent. At the
present time the ACPC relies on the goodwill of the people involved
but it has no statutory power. Whenever I have heard a minister
talking about funding for social services those working in the
field are shaking their heads. With the national agency I am hoping
to close that yawning gap. This new national agency is not another
talking shop. It is something that has a responsibility to deliver
to ministers of state a clear picture of what services are like.
Let me be blunt. If I was the director of the new agency – and
it’s not a job I’m after – I would not want to be
caught out giving a false picture to them of what services are
like. There must be some way of bridging the gap of 150 social
services departments, PCTs and other services up to the centre. By
the way, I haven’t recommended a children’s
commissioner for England. This new chief executive of the agency
will have a wider remit. It will incorporate elements of a
commissioner role, such as acting as an advocate for children.”
Can you tell me a little more about how the local
arrangements will work?
At the local level many elected members during the inquiry said
“I didn’t know and I didn’t understand” what was
happening in children’s services because no-one told me. What
I want is a committee made up of lay people health authorities,
PCTs and police to be responsible for making sure the management
board is working effectively, that it has enough resources. The
management board is to make sure that that the day-to-day running
is working well. I take the point about directors of social
services having a lot on their plates, which is why I have
recommended that someone is appointed to run the board. This
person’s job is to ensure that report whether children are
drifting, how resources are being spent etc”
You touch on the over-reliance on agency staff in your
report, but how big a role did staffing shortages have to play in
what went wrong with Victoria’s case?
My view is that referral and intake is one of the most skilled
and crucial tasks in hospitals and social services departments
because the people on that team will have to make assessments and
essential decisions about the appropriateness of the referral, the
degree of urgency, and these are decisions that require great
skill. You need experienced people in intake and referral who have
back-up from managers. The idea that someone can get off a plane
one day and then find themselves in a duty team the next, without
any knowledge of legislation, is not right.
But surely social services departments who have a high
rate of agency staff, and many of them do, will have no choice but
to place agency staff on the intake team?
I am not sure about that. I don’t go in for that line of
argument. Most staff are attracted to work in departments because
they are valued professionally. Most departments have some agency
staff but those who have a really high level should look at their
procedures. Look at Haringey it has sorted its problems out
Yes but it has had to offer huge salary increases to
attract staff and surely creating a salary war between councils is
not the way to address problems of over-reliance on agency
I don’t believe it is all about salaries. Ealing had a
very high level of criticism for their services but it is
altogether different now. When he came along to the inquiry, what
Mr Tutt [Norman Tutt, director of social services] said was that it
was about commitment and leadership. I am not someone who believes
that managers should shrug their shoulders and say “what more can
What are the main lessons you would like frontline staff
to learn from the Victoria Climbie case?
I hope that frontline staff will take encouragement from my
report. I value the job that they do but the report makes the point
that they must have support. Too often they are having to make
decisions about priorities and many feel they are just about
surviving. That is not the job of a frontline worker. They get put
in very difficult positions.
But surely they should take responsibility for their own
standards, learning and knowledge?
They are all employees and reflect the values and standards of
the organisation. Lisa Arthurworrey had only been a social worker
for 18 months and I am pretty sure she had never completed a
section 47 investigation. Social workers must be provided with
support they need to do their work.
How do you think the government will
I have been very encouraged by the response from the government
for three reasons.
The public statement from the government that it will give a
high priority to children, the fact that it got the report out so
quickly despite the pressures of domestic and foreign politics at
the moment and the fact that there is a commitment to producing a
green paper. I have been told that they will consider the content
of my report in that.
Do you agree that unless funding increases dramatically,
your reforms won’t fulfil their potential?
I did say in the report that many of the services were
under-resourced in respect of children and families. It is
essential that they are properly resourced. But it is not a case of
just saying we need more resources. It is not enough to constantly
drip, drip we need more resources, we must be able to show a clear
analysis of how much money we need and what exactly we need it for.
When we are competing for resources – and there will always be
competition – it seems to me we must be more rigorous.
To read Lord Laming’s report