Behind the headlines

Inquiry reports, once they have identified the problems and
produced their recommendations, then have to deal with the messy
business of blame.

Historically, child death inquiries have blamed front-line
social workers who had contact with the child while pointing out
the difficult circumstances in which they worked. The Victoria
Climbi’ Report shared the blame more evenly. The “greatest
failure”, the report said, rested with managers and senior council
members who failed to ensure that services were adequately
resourced.

Some managers will argue that they used to be castigated by the
Department of Health precisely because they invested in child
protection at the expense of broader services for children in need.
At the very least there are formidable obstacles to overcome in
responding to the Laming report, such as the recruitment and
retention crisis in child protection, the overspend on child care
budgets and competing priorities in other services.

It already seems doubtful that the government’s promised 6 per
cent a year increase in social services budgets will be
enough.   

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers
Association
“The Laming inquiry has at last highlighted the issue of
councillors and senior managers in local government taking
seriously their responsibilities to secure adequate funding for
social services. The government must now set the tone by ensuring
that sufficient ring-fenced funding is available for social
services, particularly in hard-hit inner city areas.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and
Fostering
“The Laming report will be a watershed in that it will
never again be acceptable to concentrate all blame on front-line
staff and junior managers. Ensuring that these workers have the
skills and supervision to enable them to protect children
effectively is a corporate responsibility. The impact of vacancies,
inadequate resources, inadequate training and poor morale are all
key – and control of these rests with those in the most powerful
positions.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
Agency
“A child dies after workers fail to speak to her directly;
a police officer doesn’t investigate a belt mark on a child; a
police chief cannot put child protection as a priority; politicians
uphold the parent’s right to hit their child, including with a belt
if that is deemed ‘reasonable chastisement'; our public attitude
sees children as less than adults. We’re all culpable. Sadly,
Laming did not address the one change that so many have called for:
an independent, statutory empowered children’s rights commissioner
for all the UK’s children.”

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social
care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
“Much of what went wrong is about accountability but it’s
about us all reviewing our inter-related accountabilities. The
Department of Health provides the legislative framework and
financial and staffing resources. Councils are accountable for
delivery of services. Senior managers are accountable for providing
systems and a framework within which front-line staff can operate.
In turn, social workers are accountable for providing professional
services within that framework. NHS staff and police are equally
accountable. It’s only through a real acceptance of our shared
accountabilities that we will deliver the high standards of care we
wish to see.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“It is all too easy to pass the entire buck to front-line
staff, but none of us works in an organisational vacuum. The role
of councillors is crucial, since they have responsibility for
policy and have sought democratic endorsement of this role. If
local government is to retain its role in social services there
needs to be an improvement in the calibre of elected members,
otherwise direct democracy will give way to appointed care trusts
and indirectly elected foundation trusts.”

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