Balls and Ofsted stand by decisions after Shoesmith attack

Children’s secretary Ed Balls and Ofsted have stood by their actions at Haringey Council after both came under attack from the council’s former director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith.

Balls removed Shoesmith from her post in December 2008 after a joint area review of safeguarding in the London borough, triggered by the Baby P case and led by Ofsted, had found systemic leadership and management failings.

The children’s secretary also ordered the appointment of a new director, Peter Lewis, and has demanded monthly updates on progress in the borough.

Shoesmith speaks out

Shoesmith, who was later sacked by Haringey, spoke out about her treatment in interviews with The Guardian and BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, on Saturday.

She said the way Haringey had been treated by Balls and others following the Baby P case was “breathtakingly reckless” and that the children’s secretary’s actions had made raising social work’s standing more difficult than before.

Shoesmith also criticised the joint area review (JAR) as misleading for suggesting she faced a conflict of interest in being simultaneously director of children’s services and chair of the local safeguarding children board, despite this arrangement being matched in 70% of English councils.

She said she was not given an opportunity to respond to the the JAR’s criticisms and first heard about her removal by Balls when it was reported on the news.

No apology from Balls

In response, Balls said: “I make no apology for the actions I took in Haringey last December, which I judged absolutely necessary to make sure children in that borough are properly protected.”

He said the JAR was “devastating” and revealed serious failings in the management of children’s services in Haringey, adding: “Faced with the same situation again I would have no hesitation in taking exactly the same decisions.”

A spokesperson for Ofsted said: “Ofsted stands by the judgements in its recent inspection of Haringey, including the findings relating to the problems within children’s services in the local authority.”

JAR criticisms

Among its criticisms, the JAR found:

  • Insufficient strategic leadership and management oversight of safeguarding by elected members, senior officers and strategic partners.
  • A managerial failure to ensure full compliance with recommendations from Lord Laming’s inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié.
  • Frontline practice was inconsistent and ineffectively monitored by managers across all agencies.
  • Inconsistent and often poor record keeping.

On the issue of Shoesmith chairing the local safeguarding children board, inspectors said this “compounded” the board’s failure “to provide sufficient challenge to its member agencies”.

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