Social workers `not overworked`at time of Victoria Climbie`s death

Haringey social workers were not overworked at the time of the
death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, social services director
Anne Bristow has admitted, writes Lauren

The admission by Bristow, who took over Haringey’s social
services department in October 2000, contrasts with allegations by
trade union Unison that social workers were struggling with
“unmanageable workloads” when Climbie died in February 2000.

Bristow told Haringey’s policy and strategy committee meeting
that the recent reduction in the number of looked-after children
without an allocated social worker was the result of the increases
in caseloads she had been able to arrange.

“We compared our systems and methods of allocation with a number
of other councils and found that our method of allocation results
in lower caseloads than in comparable authorities,” she explained
after the meeting.

“Therefore we are of the view that our social workers did not
have excessive workloads in 1999/2000.”

Bristow said the department’s new case allocation system would
bring it in line with other authorities and ensure social workers
“have the right balance between the number and complexity of cases,
according to their experience”.

But Haringey Unison criticised Bristow’s comments as “one-sided”
and unhelpful. It suggested the council could be “seeking to blame
staff concerned rather than focus on the very serious systematic
failings which led to this tragedy”.

Haringey Unison claims that, in Haringey at that time, workers
typically had caseloads of between 18 and 20 cases instead of the
agreed 12. The union has also raised issues about high staff
turnover, high vacancy rates, high use of agency staff, chronic
underfunding, a culture of blame and scapegoating, and a “very
unpopular restructuring exercise” at the time of Climbie’s

Conservative councillor Peter Forrest, who questioned Bristow at
the meeting, and intends to submit evidence to the inquiry into
Climbie’s death, added: “It seems possible that any pressure to
close Victoria’s case prematurely was driven not so much by an
excessive workload, but more a desire to cling to restrictive

Victoria Climbie, also know as Anna, was bought from the Ivory
Coast to England by her great aunt Marie-Therese Kouao in March
1999 and died 11 months later at the hands of Kouao and her
boyfriend Carl Manning. They were both convicted of murder and
given life sentences.

During her short time in England she came into contact with
three social services departments, two hospitals, and the
Metropolitan Police. Police and social services have already
admitted tragically failing Climbie.

Health secretary Alan Milburn announced in January that a
statutory inquiry, to be led by former chief inspector of the
Social Services Inspectorate Lord Herbert Laming, would be set up
to establish the events surrounding her death. He confirmed in
April that the inquiry would be held in public using powers under
the Children’s Act 1989, the NHS Act 1977 and the Police Act

The inquiry has already collected statements from most witnesses
and will begin hearing evidence in September. It will be completed
by spring 2002.




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