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Baby P case professionals’ lack of confidence highlights need to challenge criticisms

by Amy Taylor

Today’s papers scream of the failure of social workers to take Baby P into care despite health and social care workers seeing him sixty times during the 8 months before he died.
In the summer of last year social workers also dominated the headlines but coming from the other side of the damned if they do and damned if they don’t debate.

The coverage then centred on controversial MP John Hemming and his headline friendly allegations that social workers were unnecessarily taking children into care to meet adoption targets.

Understandably social workers came out fighting in response citing how difficult it was to get children taken into care. Many pointed out that that the family courts, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and lay adoption panel members all played a part in deciding if a child should be taken into care or adopted not just councils.

The serious case review for the Baby P case found that he died due to poor practice by professionals rather than a breakdown in the system. The correct procedures were largely followed but, critically, nobody was willing to decide to remove the child.

At the time of Hemming’s allegations Ann Baxter, the then chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services health, care and additional needs policy committee said that allegations such as Hemming’s brought the system into disrepute, may put people off raising concerns about a child’s welfare and therefore children might be put at risk. Something Hemming dismissed as “nonsense.”

Baxter’s remarks related to the general public but despite their resilience to Hemming’s view many social workers themselves cannot help but have them on their radar when deciding whether to remove a child.

If the case did not flag up problems with the system it laid bare how the social workers involved had little self confidence – they, along with other professionals, largely failing to challenge Baby P’s mother’s account that his injuries were accidental.

 Views such as Hemming’s chip away at a profession in an already fragile state, the lack of confidence in this case highlighting how everything must be done to challenge them.

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15 Responses to Baby P case professionals’ lack of confidence highlights need to challenge criticisms

  1. Jerry Lonsdale 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    It is high time the blame game was stopped in these harrowing situations, no point trying to push and pull all parties into submission, yes grave mistakes were made, Stop acting like the children you are supposed to be protecting and do something about the mistakes that have and were made, When my own case is released to the media in the next few days you will see further out cry into just how flawed the system is, pull your fingers out and rectify YOUR mistakes, after all it was not John Hemming who was looking after Baby P now was it.

  2. Pip 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    I have been following this story on the BBC news and I do believe many people are concerned that it is the same social services that failed Victoria Climbie. It’s not just about John Hemmings (whom I respect) and his views on children been adopted unnecessarily.

  3. Layton 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    A public could have saved this child where officials still haven’t even got the decency to name? ‘Child P’. It’s a disgrace. A journalist allowed in the initial care proceedings concerning this family could have reported the story without naming anyone involved in the case. But secrecy followed by tragedy, followed by more secrecy, followed by unaccountability, I think it’s a pattern we are all used to by now. Child protection services throughout the UK is in meltdown, are completely shambollic and need radical change now. More children will continue to die in similar circumstances if they are not protected by the public. – Your move Jack Straw.

  4. Tally 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Perhaps i should not be so suprised at this extremely cheap shot at Mr Hemming. John Hemming fights injustice and an injustice is exactly what has happened to this poor child. Hemming has today tabled a EDM looking at the effectiveness or lack of it of the ICS, which is what most social workers are actually saying is taking up most of their time. Concerns were well and truely raised in Baby P`s case, so Ann Baxters comments and your need to display them are completely irrelevant and actually a disgrace to the baby`s memory. Im sorry but lack of self confidence is not an excuse to disregard a childs ear partly removed and fingernails missing. My 5 year old could tell you that.

  5. MrsK 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    I’m sorry but what the heck has JH got to do with anything? Stop crying victim and get on with your jobs and do your jobs properly, and perhaps we can all sleep sound at night.

  6. Frustrated 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Time and time again we hear excuses when children who are at obvious risk are allowed to be murdeded under the caring eyes of social workers.What does it take to change this atrocious system in tHE UK,social workers can do as little as they like and know that at the end of the day,the worst they will get is a written warning.

    Haringey have been unlucky in recent years,in that they have been caught out.It doesn’t mean that it is the only council with problems,this happens the length and bredth of the country and nothing is being done to stop it.


  7. John Hemming MP 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    The article you cite is dated 2nd August 2007. Baby P sadly died on 3rd August 2007.

    This causes you some practical difficulty in arguing any aspect of causality.

    [date corrected]

  8. Moira 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    I think that John Hemming should be praised and not blamed for his work.As for the system being too fragile to withstand criticism,then its obviously not fit for purpose.It should be opened up to scrutiny.
    There are good social workers who are competent. There are far too many that haven’t got the ability to do the job. They don’t possess common sense,empathy,scruples or a desire to do any good work. It’s often these people who have the social work degrees.
    The GSCC are ineffectual and are investigating token social workers to make it appear they are tackling the problem,when in reality they are hopeless.
    An organisation like Ofsted is needed to monitor social workers.

  9. JIMB 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Layton said: “A public could have saved this child where officials still haven’t even got the decency to name? ‘Child P’. It’s a disgrace.”

    There are two reasons I can think of why the child hasn’t been named. One: it could be to avoid prejudicing any future trial of the mother and boyfriend (if there is one). Two: very importantly, to protect the other siblings, who seem to have been totally overlooked in all the media coverage. I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with lack of decency by officials (a knee-jerk reaction, typical of many comments in the media and on this blog.)

    There seems to be a remarkable common purpose to the posts above defending John Hemming (who, by the way, I commend for his early day motion about ICS – for once he has shown some understanding of the problems social workers face). But none of the above posters seem able to recognise the huge contradiction in taking a stance that social workers take children away from their parents too readily, and then criticising them when they haven’t removed a child.

    Clearly mistakes appear to have been made in the case of Baby P (by health professionals, police officers and solicitors as well as social workers), but it appears the Hemming brigade and other people who demonise social workers (I fail to see how a headline like “Blood on their hands” is going to protect children) are unable to realise they are part of the problem too.

  10. JuliaM 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    “…the huge contradiction in taking a stance that social workers take children away from their parents too readily, and then criticising them when they haven’t removed a child.”

    That’s because the spurious reasons given for taking children away (Satanic Ritual Abuse in the depths of winter in Orkney! Mother doesn’t co-operate with social workers and was once depressed!) are often based on phantoms. As we later find out after the inquiry.

    While if you have a history of crime, live with a man – or several – who has a history of crime (and violence), keep a squalid household with dogshit ground into the carpet and three weeks worth of dirty dishes in the sink, and child is ‘accident prone’ – well, who are we to say that’s ‘wrong’…

  11. Adam 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    If child protective services were NOT part of SSD’s then perhaps all issues would become clearer. Personally I do not think it right that at a time when LA’s are under pressure to cut budgets something as important as child protection should suffer!

    I do sympathise with front line social workers who are often in unworkable situations;

    I do sympathise with parents who do not have legitimate rights under current legislation to argue their cases fully when LA’s are looking at adotping their child/children;

    I do sympathise with all professionals who are frustrated at the rank bureaucracy that child protection involves.

    What we need is a centralised child protection agency that has its own budget and its own investigators.

    Social Services should be left to support the family whilst the investigative work is handled by another (accountable) body.

    Social services cannot hold out a hand of support whilst others hold the purse-strings and they also cannot hold out the hand of support if that hand is used to remove a child.

    I fear for every child in the same situation as P.

  12. Nick Bromley 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Your comment about social workers without self-confidence struck a chord.

    I worked on Sir Roy Griffiths’ Review of Community Care in the 1980s (interestingly, Lord Laming was one of the review’s advisors). I well remember Sir Roy’s increasing exasperation with the language of partnership and joint working. He saw it as a cop out and his constant question, in his trips around the country to see care in practice, was “who exactly is responsible for the success of the service here?” We visited social workers who were caring for people with learning difficulties who had been released into the community from long-stay institutions. It was quite clear that those social workers were fully responsible and the air of competence and confidence was palpable. Elsewhere, we found situations where the division of responsibility between health and social service was supposed to be a matter of joint partnership. There was an air of drift: much discussion of procedures and not much action.

    Sir Roy’s recommendation was firm. Social services should take clear and sole responsibility for community care and orchestrate the necessary inputs. The Government never really implemented his report (that administration distrusted social services authorities) and community care is still a fudge.

    I fear that “Every Child Matters” has led the social work profession into the same process of dreaming up procedures for joint working without being clear about where responsibility lies. When people can shift responsibility onto the process of joint working, they will. Nothing is ever anyone’s responsibility because it was discussed in a conference in which the most timid solution usually prevails. People who have firm views are seen as not being committed to joint working. And social workers who have no sense of personal responsibility never learn to exercise a confident judgement. Sadly, i am almost certain that what will come out of these reviews is even more procedures for joint working and even more bodies for collaborative working

    PS I haven’t seen anyone comment on the fact that it now costs a social service authority over £2000 per case to get a care order. One would expect that to be an important factor in the minds of senior management in a poor borough like Haringay

  13. Adams 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    In the light of another tragic death in Haringay.We who work in the profession knows the obstacles and hurdles frontline social workers and their managers face to get funding and their decisions ratified.This is further compounded by the fact that workers without effective negotiation skills has difficulty convincing their superiors to provide the funding support.

    Social workers and the profession should not be scapegoated but supported to bring the confidence of worker to apply the ability to look beyond whats presented be supported with the resources which is often scarce. Quality protects initiatives in social work/ child protection should/must include training in case presentation using the skills of negotiation as we are now operating within a business model which I believe conflicts with social care/protection.We also needs community and neighbourhood watch in the best interest of the child this must stand above the privacy of the adults. In the case of Baby P deception by the parents appears to be a major factor.

    However BLAMING IS NOT THE ANSWER.Reduce the need for further ineffective actions resulting in childrens death by providing effective human and system resources,only that which is necessary to protect the life of children whilst empowering the workers to carry out their work.

    Does the public realised that social work is a balancing Act, without the right support the goal can become at times unattainable. Mistakes will they ever disappear? tears I shed for this child as so much was done yet we have a tragic case and the preofession been demoralised even further.
    Who care for the carers .. if we dont apply the right formula and decisions are not made by those in touch with reality. We will not get beyond recurrent incidents like these.
    –Best practice is our goal—

  14. nalini 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    As long as we have local authorities/councils accountable to themselves only, children will continue to be killed
    I am a social worker and when I exposed my department’s shortcomings i was persecuted not only by children services department, but by the Chief Executive too. In fact the council conspired with a convicted criminal to persecute me.
    Social Services talk about lack of social workers, well where are they all going? harassed out!!!!!!

  15. Lou 11 April , 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    To Tally: what do you do? Your comments will only put people off going into child protection at a time when we desperately need more social workers. Baby P’s social worker had 80 cases. These things are bound to happen with that amount of stress on an individual. I’m sick of reading all these self-righteous comments.