Wednesday, 12 November 2008

When Every Child Doesn't Matter

There is a general consensus that Gordon Brown adopted the wrong tone at PMQs today by accusing David Cameron of playing politics over the latest horrific Haringey child killing and abuse case, though Cameron had already made some cheap shots at Brown himself. Brown has still to get the tone right in the Commons, and to recognise that there are occasions where a bipartisan spirit is more appropriate. Today was one of those days.

But the substance of the case is rather more important, and it is clearly appalling that another child should have been so brutally killed in circumstances not unlike those that led to Victoria Climbie's tragic death eight years ago. The government has invited Lord Laming to conduct another inquiry. I wonder whether they are right to do so.

After the Climbie inquiry, the Government embarked on a massive overhaul of the children's social services and education system, under the tag Every Child Matters (ECM). The result has been massive bureaucratic upheaval in local and national government, lots of new committees and piles of extra paperwork. Ofsted has reported some improvements in actual procedures as a result, but it also made these telling observations about child protection in its recent report on safeguarding children:
  • there is evidence that thresholds [for actioning care proceedings] are still not well understood by referring agencies and thresholds are sometimes raised by local authority children’s services in response to workload pressures, staffing shortages and financial resources
  • lines of accountability and responsibility for child protection are not clear in all agencies, including some NHS trusts, Cafcass, YOTs, parts of the police service and youth offender institutions.
Lord Laming undoubtedly produced a valuable report, yet his recommendations have not had the impact that he hoped for. Might it not be better to allow a fresh pair of eyes to examine not only what happened in Haringey but why his recommendations are not having the desired practical effect?
UPDATE: Ed Balls is right to order a speedy inquiry into the state of Haringey's children's services. Self-righteous councillors in Haringey wriggled out of a full-scale privatisation when their education department was failed in 1999. There should be no half-measures now: Ed Balls must ensure that this council is no longer left in charge of anything affecting children's welfare or education.

1 comment:

Jack Hughes said...

I know several social workers and they are not like the rest of us.

They earnestly and sincerely believe that whatever they are doing right now is synonymous with the best interests of the world's children even it if it's the direct opposite of what they used to do 3 years ago.

For example a team leader on adoption:

"we used to have a clean break policy - but now we feel that every child needs to stay in touch with their birth parents."

What every single child ? And this is based on extensive research or is it just this year's fad ?