Brighton social workers may strike after suspensions over adopted boy`s death

Social workers at Brighton and Hove council’s children
services are threatening strike action over the suspension of two
social workers after the death of four-year-old John Smith at the
hands of his adoptive parents, writes Clare

Around 100 social workers demonstrated outside the council
offices before moving into the director’s office and
demanding the social workers were reinstated.

The protests were finally defused when social services director
Allan Bowman agreed to meet social workers the following day with
council leader Ken Bodfish. Bowman promised there would be an
investigation into the social worker’s actions before any
disciplinary action was taken.

Dave Pameley, who was in charge of John Smith’s case, and
adoption worker John Barrow were suspended following John’s
death, pending a court case. Simon and Michelle McWilliam were last
week convicted of cruelty to their adopted son.

Kevin Byrne, co-convenor of Unison at Brighton council, said
Pameley and Barrow were being scapegoated when the lack of
resources, and a catalogue of mishandling of services were to

“All front line child protection social workers have no
confidence in the senior management of the social services
department to run the service properly,” he said.

Bowman insisted the investigation was essential due to the
severity of the case, as the part 8 review into John’s care
and protection says social workers were to blame for the mistakes
they made.

In her part 8 report, author Alyson Leslie says: “In my view,
while a major reduction in fieldwork posts and weaknesses in
first-line management systems in Brighton and Hove social services
contributed, to differing degrees, to the pressures under which
social worker one and three were working, the critical failures in
this case were not in resourcing systems, but in the performance of
basic social work tasks.”

It also makes a series of recommendations, which the council
have taken on board. It stresses more documentation and
corroboration is needed in the assessment of prospective

“Currently in the UK, more documentary evidence is required when
an individual is seeking a mortgage than when they are adopting a
child,” Leslie wrote.

The review finds that a more thorough, objective and evidenced
assessment of the McWilliams would have stopped the couple getting
into the system. Investigations into McWilliam’s past
experience as a parent, would have resulted in the process being
immediately terminated.

Leslie insists that the implementation of the recommendations
made in the review are well underway. More basic information is now
required from prospective adopters including birth certificate,
employment status, driving licence, next of kin and addresses for
the prior 10 years.

Bowman concludes: “All the agencies involved have learned
lessons, and are implementing major improvements in the way we look
after children in our care.”

Click here
to read a news report on the conviction of Simon and
Michelle McWilliam.

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