Trouble at the top

Whatever the fate of Lord Laming’s recommendations for structural
reform in child protection, his report will be remembered for
putting council members and their senior management in the dock.
There have been more than 30 child death reports since the Maria
Colwell Inquiry in 1974 and not one of them subjected the top brass
to anything like the same scrutiny as front-line workers. Laming
blew this convention apart: the “greatest failure”, he said, rested
with councillors and senior managers, some of whom had gone on to
prosper while the heads of junior staff rolled. It was not, he
said, “an example of managerial accountability that impresses me

Beneath the studied restraint of this phrase lies an entire history
of officially sanctioned discrimination in favour of management at
the expense of social workers. Previous inquiries have had little
to say about the responsibility for the lack of training, shortages
of resources and poor communication between agencies that they have
repeatedly identified as contributing factors. Laming, by contrast,
said that managers and councillors, whose job it was to ensure that
services for children such as Victoria Climbi’ were properly
financed, staffed and able to deliver, should take the rap.

Yet there is no sign that either management or members plan to
behave any less brazenly now than they did during the Laming
inquiry itself. Then, as now, the air was filled with the voices of
senior people pleading their innocence and insisting that “no one
ever told me”. In Haringey, where Victoria died, the ruling Labour
group has refused to accept the individual responsibility of
councillors, including those criticised in the report, while the
two senior managers in the department at the time, Mary Richardson
and Carol Wilson, have maintained a discreet silence in their new
jobs heading social services departments elsewhere.

But the axe continues to fall on front-line staff with a
predictable regularity. Another council implicated in the report,
Brent, has just announced the dismissal of Edward Armstrong,
manager of the intake duty team when Victoria was referred. He
follows the Haringey social workers Lisa Arthurworrey, Angella
Mairs and Carole Baptiste who have already lost their jobs, though
Arthurworrey is appealing against her dismissal for gross

That very serious errors of judgement were made by front-line
workers was never in doubt, but their superiors could not go on
claiming immunity for ever. Laming has called them to account. They
should examine their consciences and take the honourable course.

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