Hardly had Margaret Hodge been appointed minister for children than
some were calling for her to resign. They allege she did not do
enough to respond to allegations of abuse in children’s homes and
the existence of a paedophile ring in the community when she was
leader of Islington Council in the early 1990s. Her detractors
claim that those who believe she should stay have short memories,
and do not have children’s best interests at heart.
It’s true that many have tacitly supported her purely because of
pragmatic fears of losing a minister who has shown signs of
advocating for social care. Fair enough.
But in addition there are precious few individuals or organisations
who were responsible for children’s homes, or for statutory child
protection services in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, who should
not by now have learned the lessons of some dangerous mistakes.
Sooner or later we have to stop pointing fingers and get on with
banishing forever the old culture of child care which caused – or
at the very least ignored – the pain of so many.
There is no reason why Margaret Hodge – and Lord Laming, and many
others who have been touched by horrors they perhaps should have
prevented when in positions of authority – should not be part of a
child-centred future for services.
The fact is that those who remember the early 1990s will recall a
series of panics that threatened to overwhelm child protection
practice in many areas. There was no culture of “listen to
children”, and the media – not least Hodge’s nemesis the Evening
Standard – set out to discredit the very concept of believing
children, not to mention social work itself. They hounded Labour
councils such as Islington and prominent local left-wingers such as
Hodge. None of this made for an ideal backdrop for clear
Hodge has accepted responsibility for her role in what went wrong.
That is important given that the “rush to blame” culture both in
the media and within social care often makes people unwilling to
own up to mistakes. It is one reason why many lessons have been
learned so slowly, with tragic consequences. This is not to excuse
the errors Hodge made. But getting rid of Hodge won’t help today’s
children, who need us all to move on.