The powers of the children’s secretary to effectively dismiss directors of children’s services (DCS) has been questioned by the judge in the Shoesmith case.
Mr Justice Foskett, in his dismissal of Sharon Shoesmith’s application for judicial review of her sacking following the Baby P case, said he was concerned about the way the “legal relationship between central government and local government operates in this kind of situation”.
Children’s secretary Ed Balls, following an emergency Ofsted inspection of Haringey’s safeguarding services following the Baby P case, deprived Shoesmith of her powers as a DCS, effectively forcing Haringey to sack her.
The judge recommended discussions between central government, councils and directors of children’s services in order to “establish a protocol for dealing with this kind of situation if it arises in the future”.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services echoed the call. Its president, Marion Davis, said: “As in all relationships between national and local government, where national intervention is required the process, including checks and balances, should be clear. We accept the need for rigorous scrutiny, but we also demand that the scrutiny should be transparent, fair and proportionate.”
The judge said the case also raised the need for debate about whether directors of children’s services should take individual responsibility for a collective failure “and whether that responsibility justifies summary dismissal”.
“The prospect of summary dismissal with no compensation and a good deal of public opprobrium is hardly likely to be an inducement for someone thinking of taking the job or, perhaps, in some circumstances, continuing in it,” he added.
Members of the sector have echoed his comments.
Nushra Mansuri, policy officer with the British Association of Social Workers, said: “Is this going to be a precedent now? What does that say to people who hold positions in safeguarding – that this could be their fate? Is it proportionate?
“People in senior positions need to have greater accountability, but not in the way it’s been done in this case. If Sharon Shoesmith’s practice was found wanting, then that needed to be dealt with by her employer in the first place. Then, if she needed to go before a professional body, fine. You shouldn’t need additional intervention from a minister.”