Haringey social services fights back

The children and families team in Haringey is now unrecognisable
from the one in post at the time of the catalogue of errors that
led up to Victoria Climbié’s death, writes
Janet Snell.
Some like social worker Lisa Arthurworrey and her
manager Carole Baptiste have been sacked. Others saw the writing on
the wall and left of their own accord.
Since then extra resources have been pumped in to attract new
recruits, who have benefited from an improved package that appears
to have successfully addressed the council’s chronic staffing
problem. The new people are free from the baggage of the Victoria
Climbié case and although there was anxiety in Haringey in the
run up to the publication of the Victoria Climbié report,
there was no sense of the issue overshadowing staff in the way
there was two years or even 12 months ago.
Marion Wheeler, service manager for the children’s care
management and assessment team, believes the lessons from the
Victoria Climbié report apply to children’s services
across the country not just Haringey.
“I have friends and colleagues working for other London local
authorities that have had similar cases to Victoria’s either
happen or nearly happen. There’s nothing unique about
She adds that it is natural that staff feel some unease over how
the report’s findings will be reported because it will affect
how the people of Haringey respond. “At the time of the trial
some staff were subject to verbal assault, others had their cars
scratched and there was some fairly nasty stuff. But overall I
think there is a feeling that we have put the bad times behind us
and the building blocks are in place for delivering a high quality
She feels that the special measures are having a positive effect in
that they are focusing everyone’s minds and encouraging
councillors and management to work together to tackle problems.
“The councillors understand that with more resources we can
be excellent, but if we’re under-resourced we are going to be
Haringey social services used to be something of an inward-looking
department, but there has been a major push to develop stronger
partnership arrangements with other agencies. For Wheeler, though,
the most important change has been focusing on recruiting the right
people. “Unless we have managers and staff in place who are
child-focused and are committed to the idea that getting things
right matters, then it’s difficult to achieve anything.
“Before there was always the excuse of ‘we have no
staff’ or ‘I’ve only just arrived’ or
‘I’m only temporary’. But now those in post all
want to be here. And we have been able to attract really high
calibre people – it’s not just a case of having a name at a
Among the new intake are social worker Jennifer Wilson and her
colleague Helen Patterson, a social work assistant. The latter post
is a new departure for Haringey, which is trying to develop its own
social workers by training unqualified staff. When the authority
advertised 12 such posts there were 400 applicants.
Patterson has been in the job since last February. “At the
start I was supervised weekly. It’s reassuring getting that
extra backing so you know you’re on the right track. And you
really are encouraged to extend your skills. It’s not just
left up to you to ask. We are also a very tight team and we give
each other a lot of support.”
Jennifer Wilson says that after completing her social work degree,
far from being put off by Haringey’s reputation, she was
attracted to the borough because she felt it would be an excellent
training ground. “When I applied the publicity about the
Victoria Climbié case was at its height. But I thought if
they’re on special measures everything will be under the
microscope so at least they’ll be doing things
Wilson believes Haringey now has a “nurturing
environment” for staff thanks to its induction and
supervision programmes. “Roles are clear and you feel you can
ask for support if you need it. At the start they said to me
‘you’re very confident – you’re doing
fine.’ But I said that I thought I needed more supervision
and I got it.”
For Helen Patterson another break with the past is improved joint
working with other agencies. “We have joint meetings and we
invite everybody. The police always come. With health visitors and
midwives we keep in close touch mainly by phone. Teachers are not
afraid to get on the phone to us. GPs are sometimes hard to pin
down, but they always make their information freely available.
Joint working is happening. There’s no tension between us any
For Wilson one of the values that staff across all agencies share
is the belief that the child must be listened to. “It’s
about taking notice of what the child says and not hearing what you
want to hear.
“What I like is the feeling of making a fresh start. We all
know about the Victoria Climbié case and it was appalling and
we won’t forget it. Perhaps things weren’t as good as
they should have been. But the mood is ‘how can we learn from
it.’ You can’t work in a climate of scaremongering and
fear for ever. You have to move on.”
Haringey social services director Anne Bristow believes her
children and families team has turned a corner, and although it may
not have reached its destination, it is getting there.
“Although most of our staff arrived after the Victoria
Climbié case, clearly as an organisation there is a real sense
of responsibility and a feeling that we owe an apology to
Victoria’s parents for the shortcomings of the authority at
the time of their daughter’s death.
“But the legacy of the case also amounts to a determination
to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again. All you can do
is put all possible safeguards in place and never be
In the aftermath of the murder trial and the criticisms of her
department levelled during the Victoria Climbié Inquiry,
Bristow rebuilt her children and families team virtually from
“We started by taking a hard look at what we were doing and
what we were spending. The elected members found an extra £5
million for children’s services compared to 1999-2000 – and
that has enabled us to give social workers the tools to do their
“We now believe we are offering the best terms and conditions
in London and one of the best packages in the country. And
it’s not a question of luring people from elsewhere,
we’re attracting people away from agencies onto permanent
“We have spent a lot of time ensuring our staff supervision
arrangements work properly. We are very hot on training and our
staff are now entitled to one day a month study leave. This has all
fed through into recruitment and retention and the response rate to
our job advertisements has tripled. Because we have addressed the
recruitment crisis, caseloads are more manageable and Haringey is
simply a better place to work.
“Now we are hoping that our achievements will be recognised
externally. When the star ratings were refreshed last November, our
children’s services moved from having ‘poor’
prospects up to ‘uncertain’ prospects. That may not
sound much, but the fact that things had improved was a real boost
for staff. Perhaps next time we can hope for a star – or who knows,
maybe even two!”

Haringey improvements
That was then:
Spending on children’s services 1999-2000: £18.5
Social worker salary: up to £25,000
Vacancy rates: between 30-40 per cent
Lisa Arthurworrey had a caseload of 19

This is now:
Spending on children’s services 2002-3: £23.5
Social worker salary: up to £33,505
Vacancy rate: 5 per cent
Average caseload: 14 cases

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