As a social work academic previously employed
by the NSPCC, I have followed the Victoria Climbie inquiry with
concern. Victoria’s death has been used, by some, to legitimate
calls for widespread reform of the child protection system. This is
before phase two of the inquiry, which looks at strategic issues,
is complete.

Inappropriate social work, or
other professional responses may be implicated in the death of
Victoria. However, we need to ensure that this does not lead us to
precipitate action that may negatively affect the functioning of
established systems.

Committed and caring staff work
with vulnerable children and their families in the midst of much
uncertainty. Clearly, failures happen. But in many instances the
problem is the fundamental impossibility of the task. Uncertainty
cannot be eliminated and there is no possible configuration of the
system that will ensure that we are not faced with another inquiry
in the future. Grand claims, like Lord Laming’s pledge that the
inquiry will “mark a turning point for improving child protection
in Britain”, make good press. However, the protection of children
does not result from system reform based on the intensive scrutiny
of high-profile individual cases.

Unpalatable though it may be, in
our risk-averse and litigious society, we need to accept that there
is no foolproof system. Recent calls for fundamental reform seem to
reflect interest group agendas and political concerns, rather than
real attempts to improve the lot of children. Organisational change
is disruptive and counter-productive as confusion and
demoralisation often result. Radical reform would destabilise and
undermine what remains a largely functional system.

the NSPCC, which has been calling for reform, should refocus its
attention on the issues that face it as an organisation rather than
the child care system as a whole. The voices of “experts” – the
NSPCC among them – often dominate debates about child abuse. In the
process, other voices, including those of social care workers in
local authorities, are muffled or drowned out.

NSPCC is among those that have a loud voice in this debate, yet
because of its relatively small scale, it is among the least likely
to have to systematically implement any changes. Let us hope that
other voices are heard and respected as the future of work with
vulnerable children and families is debated in a mature and
inclusive way.

like those from the British Association of Social Workers who
submitted information to phase two of the inquiry, do not support
the call for “root and branch” reform. I do, however, want to offer
my wholehearted support to staff seeking to deliver services every
day to vulnerable children and their families.

Annie Huntington is senior lecturer in the
school of community health sciences and social care, University of


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