Victory for Baby P?

“Victory for Baby P” screamed the Sun, as heads rolled in Haringey. No, guys – Baby P is dead. There’s no victory here.

The Sun, over the last week or two, has run a very nasty campaign in which they’ve ‘named and shamed’ social workers and demanded their dismissal. Local Lib Dem MP Lynn Featherstone has worked hard to build her own career by cheer leading the witch hunt. Tory leader David Cameron has joined the ritual condemnations of staff, saying “It’s good that some of the people have been named and been suspended” – and is calling for their pay to be stopped.

The ‘victory’ for the witch hunters is that three senior staff have been suspended, and another three are under review. Are they culpable? It’s hard to know – because Children’s Secretary Ed Balls has refused to publish the enquiry report.

Human beings make mistakes. We know that, for the simple reason that most of us do it from time to time. Possibly even Sun journalists and career-minded MPs get stuff wrong sometimes. Condemning individuals here is not particularly useful. The tragic death of Baby P wasn’t caused by an evil social worker trying to kill him. Almost certainly, we’re looking at a series of system failures – around resources and workloads, procedures, training, supervision and so on.

We’ve already heard from a senior social worker at Haringey about the culture of bullying and the massive workloads. She flagged up her concerns long before Baby P died, incidentally. If individual social workers were stressed, overworked and bullied, there’s a good chance that they weren’t doing the job that we (and they) would want them to.

Child protection is way too important to leave to the likes of the Sun and David Cameron. If we can stop the hysterical witch hunt for a moment or two, it’s worth thinking about what needs to happen. It’s too late for Baby P, but not for other children who are abused or at risk of abuse. What needs to be happening is a careful, honest detailed review of why Baby P died, and what lessons need to be learned. Then we need to look at the resources, training and structures that are needed to implement change at national level.  It might be more fun shrieking at individual social workers – but children deserve better than that.


4 Responses to Victory for Baby P?

  1. Mark Pack says:

    I don’t understand how you go from saying, “Condemning individuals here is not particularly useful” to “We’ve already heard from a senior social worker at Haringey about the culture of bullying and the massive workloads”.

    That bullying is the result of how individuals behave (the people who bully, the people who didn’t change the culture). Do you really think that bullying is awful but no-one should be blamed for it?

    And why no whisper of criticism for those who were warned about problems in Haringey’s Children’s Services but then failed to follow-up properly on those warnings? Again, it seems to me perfectly reasonable to attribute blame to individuals. Isn’t the alternative just a white-wash where no-one is ever thought to be resonsiple for how they behave?

  2. Gill George says:

    This is from current Department of Health guidance on ‘serious untoward incidents’ – cases of death or serious harm to patients.

    “The Department of Health is pursuing its commitment to patient safety
    among other things by encouraging a shift in the NHS from a prevailing
    culture of blame to one that is fair and just. All experience in other high
    risk industries shows that a culture in which blame predominates in the
    handling of errors and adverse incidents creates a climate of fear leading to
    concealment of safety problems. This can lead potentially to more, rather
    than fewer, incidents.”

    There’s a lot of sense in this. The issue around the Baby P tragedy isn’t whether or not some staff made mistakes – it’s a virtual certainty that they did. The choice, though, is a stark one. One way to respond is a serious sober ‘root cause analysis’ in which we try to understand WHY things went wrong and what lessons can be learned to create better and safer practice going forward. The alternative is what we’ve seen so far with this case – journalists and politicians playing their own games and promoting their own careers (quite possibly at the expense of children who are at risk).

  3. Dan says:

    Gill there is a balance to be struck and no blame culture is prefferred as it can otherwise turn into blame anyone but me culture and hide and cover up culture. However that does not mean in no circumstances should anyone ever be blemed. Sometimes what has gone on is not a maistake but true negligence, the problem here is the tabloids do not want a sober sifing through the facts to seperate understandable error with tragic consequences and true negligence whether at the level of the individual frontline worker, the middle manager acting as a bully to staff and forcing them to cut corners or the Council executive deliberatly underfunding Childrens services despite the need.

    They just want to satisfy the damand of someone must be sacked and they must be sacked NOW! Whether it is the right person or not we do not care too much.

  4. Mark Pack says:

    As Dan says, there’s a balance to be struck.

    Last time in Haringey, with Victoria Climbie, I think the balance was got horribly wrong. Despite all the problems found with the management and organisation, the only people whose careers were blighted were the junior social workers. No senior manager or councillor took responsibility.

    The balance that time was got horribly wrong. The Laming Report is a damning list of repeated managerial failures, but it was the junior staff who got to carry the can – and a continuing failure to sort out Children’s Services, as with the failure to implement all the Laming recommendations in Haringey.

    That’s where I think your piece is wrong in its overall approach Gill. After Victoria Climbie’s death there were plenty of people saying, ‘don’t blame the managers, don’t blame the councillors, just take a look at the underlying causes.’

    Look where that got us: a Children’s Service that continued to have major problems, not even all of Laming’s recommendations implemented in Haringey and a continuing culture of trying to ignore or belittle those who warned that things weren’t right.

    A big problem Haringey faces is a culture of senior people not taking responsibility, and that’s why much of the outside pressure this time has been so important in my view.

    I think we agree that some of that pressure has been distasteful and wrong, but where I think we differ is that overall I welcome the other pressure which, this time, means it isn’t just junior staff who have to face the consequences of their mistakes.

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