By Ray Jones
It is seven years since 17-month-old Peter Connelly died and six years since the ‘Baby P’ story was generated by the media.
The story was strongly, but wrongly, shaped by Rebekah Brooks and The Sun’s ‘campaign for justice’ that demanded the sackings of social workers and their managers – a demand which was speedily actioned by Ed Balls, the children’s secretary at the time, and Haringey Council.
This evening BBC One are broadcasting a documentary about Baby P.
In 2012 the film producers had the first full draft of my book The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight, access to all the collated papers and reports which were the source materials for the book, and over the next two years several briefing meetings and numerous phone calls with me.
I do not, however, know what editorial line the producers have taken in the film.
My hopes for the film are that it will cover three significant concerns, each of which are discussed and detailed in my book.
First, the bullying behaviour of the media, which endangered the lives of social workers, and saw politicians of all major political parties, led by David Cameron, falling in line with the media’s hue and cry that vengeance and vilification be targeted at social workers and their managers.
The Sun headline of ‘Blood on Their Hands’ was the disgraceful pinnacle of the hatred and harassment the media generated.
Second, I hope the film will cover how the Baby P story became focused on Haringey Council, its social workers and their managers, and how significant concerns about the council’s legal services, the police and the NHS were quickly airbrushed out of the story.
This focusing of the story on the social workers and their managers was assisted by a rushed Ofsted-led joint area review and the hasty second serious case review.
Finally, and most importantly of all, the film will hopefully tell viewers about the impact of the Baby P story on child protection and welfare services, with an immediate increase in child protection activity in November 2008 when the media story started and a 45% increase in child protection workloads for social workers, police officers and health workers over the past six years.
This deluge of child protection concerns has taken place amidst public sector cuts, families moving from deprivation to destitution, and chaos created by reorganisations in the NHS, schools and probation.
There is now chaos and unnecessary complexity being introduced into children’s social services, including child protection, through marketisation and privatisation.
Nowhere in the world has privatised child protection investigations and assessments. Elsewhere they are always undertaken within the state and public sectors. In England they are already being taken outside of the state and public sector. This is all being pushed ahead by the coalition government unopposed by Labour.
In his foreword to The Story of Baby P, Patrick Butler tells how those who were cast as the villains in the Baby P story – Sharon Shoesmith and the social workers – are now increasingly recognised as being vilified by the real villains: the press and politicians.
The measure of the BBC film will be whether or not it tackles each of the three issues noted above, including the dismal consequences for the protection of children that resulted from the press and political shaping of the story and its disastrous ramifications, which are still with us today.
Ray Jones is the author of The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight and professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London