We must stand by social workers and recognise they’re making complex decisions, says safeguarding board chair

Even if every frontline worker was a qualified high court judge, we would still have child deaths, says chair of board behind the Hamzah Khan review

We must focus less on the mistakes of individual social workers in the aftermath of a child death and instead recognise the complexity of the social problems involved, the chair of the board that published the controversial Hamzah Khan serious case review (SCR) has warned.

Nick Frost, professor of social work at Leeds Metropolitan University and independent chair of the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB), said the media attention following the Khan SCR had taught him the importance of explaining that complexity.

“One of the interviewers (a journalist reporting on the SCR) said to me, ‘isn’t this all common sense?’ And I said, ‘actually it’s the opposite of common sense, because common sense would never say a mother would starve a child to death or leave a baby dead in bed for two years’.”

Frost warned that this misunderstanding often resulted in a “misplaced focus” on individual workers in SCRs.

“The problem isn’t with the calibre of the workforce, it’s with the complexity of the social problems we confront. Even if every frontline social worker was, I don’t know, a qualified high court judge, we would still have child deaths.

“Of course we should challenge bad practice whenever we see it and, if people have been negligent, if they have been drunk on duty, if they have produced false records, they should be disciplined and if necessary should be sacked.

“But when people are taking complex decisions, we should stand by them and support them, as long as they are doing so in good faith.”

Frost was speaking at a Community Care conference held last week to mark the fifth anniversary of the fallout from the Peter Connelly (Baby P) case.

When considering why both cases were picked up by the media, he remarked on the parallel between the famous Baby P picture and that used of Hamzah Khan (above): “Both showed a toddler with big eyes looking up at the camera. Obviously these were different children from different ethnic backgrounds, but there were very striking similarities.”

Yet he noted that the Khan story did not “run and run” the way the Baby P coverage did.

“I think that was due to number of factors, but primarily it’s because Bradford is a good authority. I think, because the media realised that, they couldn’t run with it for weeks saying there are fundamental problems in Bradford.”

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