Child protection services could suffer “irreparable, long-term damage” in the event of a knee-jerk reaction to the Baby P case, Local Government Association chair Margaret Eaton warned today.
Speaking at an LGA summit on the impact of the case, Eaton said that poor frontline performance needed to be challenged. But she added: “That’s no excuse for a witch-hunt which is not only unreasonable, but also threatens to be seriously counter-productive.”
News of the failure of agencies in Haringey to protect Baby P from his mother, step-father and another man, has sparked widespread public hostility towards child protection staff in the north London borough and elsewhere.
Increase in care applications
The conclusion of the trial into Baby P’s death has also been followed by a spark in care applications by councils, which family court body Cafcass has attributed to “risk averse” practice by councils.
In a plea for calm after the public uproar surrounding the case, Eaton said there was a danger that people considering a career in child protection could be scared off, causing vacancy rates in the profession to rise.
She also warned of an increase in the number of children being taken into care unnecessarily if the system became “unreasonably risk-averse”.
She said: “If these things come to pass we’ll ruin our chances of improving the lives of the most vulnerable children, we’ll damage families – the foundation of our society – and we’ll sabotage our efforts to make the system for protecting children more effective.”
Her comments come with former chief inspector of social services Lord Laming having begun a review of child protection in England, ordered by the government in the wake of the Baby P case.
It will assess progress on the recommendations of his landmark 2003 inquiry into the Victoria Climbié case, assess the quality of local safeguarding children boards and serious case reviews and examine legal barriers preventing children from being taken into care.
The LGA is using the summit to develop a “five-point plan” to improve child protection. This will include a call on government
to increase investment in children’s social work to help with recruitment and retention, over the medium-term. The other points are:-
- Reforms to make it easier for councils to shift services towards prevention and early intervention.
- A programme on child protection and safeguarding that gives councils access to the best possible advice.
- Improving the links between the care and child protection systems.
- For Ofsted to discuss with councils how it can most effectively assess the quality of child protection practice and support councils and their partners to improve.
Full details on the plan will be issued after the summit.
Also speaking at the event, Ann Baxter, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services’ health, care and additional needs committee, said that services should not be subjected to wholesale change following Baby P.
She added: “We’re not starting from ground zero, a lot has been achieved and lessons have been learned,” she said. “We mustn’t lose our nerve.”