Serious case reviews ‘politically abused’ since death of Baby P, claims expert

Safeguarding expert claims serious case review authors face ministerial disapproval if they don't criticise the local authority

Peter Connelly (Baby P) died in Haringey in August 2007

There has been a “political abuse” of serious case reviews since the death of Baby P, with authors forced to criticise the council to avoid ministerial disapproval, a leading safeguarding expert has claimed.

Edi Carmi, an independent safeguarding consultant who led the first serious case review into the Peter Connelly (Baby P) case, said serious case reviews were “an internal process” and seen as “local lessons for a local professional audience”, prior to the high-profile tragedy.

She was speaking at a Community Care conference held to mark the fifth anniversary of the political and media fallout that followed the 17-month-old’s death.

Carmi’s original 140-page report into Haringey’s involvement in Peter Connelly’s life was found to be ‘inadequate’ by the then Labour government.

Ministers criticised former Haringey director Sharon Shoesmith for reviewing her own children’s services department, even though this was consistent with practice and political recommendations at the time.

Politicians were poorly briefed about the case and influenced by the media, Carmi told delegates, pointing out that comments on her review were positive before the media became involved.

The fallout from the case has had a negative effect on serious case reviews, Carmi said, claiming that review authors now feel under pressure from politicians and are consequently sometimes reluctant to take on the work.

“When something goes wrong, we need to look beneath individual responsibility to what’s going wrong in the system,” Carmi said.

“But if you want to avoid ministerial disapproval, you have to say how bad the work being done is and how bad the local authority is doing – then you’re safe.”

Professor Nick Frost of Leeds Metropolitan University, whose serious case review into the death of four-year-old Hamzah Khan in Bradford was heavily criticised by the government, also spoke at the event. He told delegates that the negative experience had made him more determined to stand up for social work and say what he thinks.

Frost’s review was criticised by the children’s minister who said it did not fully explain social workers’ actions. He said the review was very clear that the child’s death could not have been predicted, and found many of the problems concerned national systems, such as education and health.

Peter Connelly was 17 months old when he died in August 2007. His mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owen were all jailed for their part in the toddler’s death.

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