Climbie case overload row

Haringey social workers were not overworked at the time of the
death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, social services director
Anne Bristow told a public meeting last week.

The admission by Bristow, who took over the north London
council’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 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 arranged.

“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 1999-00.”

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, 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 practice.”

Victoria Climbie 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.

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

The inquiry will begin hearing evidence in September.

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