Baby P: why the business model didn't work

Submitted by cathy n on 27 November, 2008 - 10:18 Author: Pauline Bradley

Until 2006 Pauline Bradley worked as a social worker for Haringey council, whose social work department has been in the news over the death of “Baby P”.

During her time at Haringey Pauline saw the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, the inquiry into her death by Lord Laming, and the subsequent reforms made by the government. Here Pauline, who now works in Dumbarton, explains why she thinks the social work system can fail children like “Baby P”.

This is the full text of the interview which Pauline did with Cathy Nugent. The text in the printed paper is just Pauline's responses; here we include the questions, too.
Did the Lord Laming inquiry institute a new regime in social work in England? If so, what was it? How was it implemented?

Yes, Laming made 108 recommendations to do with tightening up procedures and communication. Updated computer systems were introduced which made it easier for social workers, occupational therapists and other professionals to record visits and communicate with each other, These systems varied in places and had teething problems too. Not all his recommendations were upheld by central government, particularly the ones regarding how SW departments communicate with politicians and other agencies (my copy of the Laming report is in an office I can't get to presently - sorry). Initial assessments, core assessments and other practices were implemented and should have been standardised throughout England and the UK. In Haringey they pushed them through with vigour to try to prove that all was different and better. They changed their logo to "Better Haringey" to show a change from the bad old past.

Was the situation in Haringey which you have described - new managers with a form-filling, targets regime - the situation everywhere in England? Or was there special issues because of the involvement with Victoria Climbie?

The government was closely watching Haringey so In Haringey they pushed them through with vigour to try to prove that all was different and better. They changed their logo to "Better Haringey" to show a change from the bad old past. The press had called the social worker "incompetent" and Haringey council wanted to prove they'd got rid of all the "Incompetent, bad" social workers (i.e. the ones who were employed at the time of Victoria Climbie's death, who they had decided must be bad as they had learned all these bad working practices). the new management regime were not qualified social workers, Anne Bristow (new Director SW) had many qualifications in management and marketing, David Derbyshire (new Children's director at time) also wasn't a qualified social worker. He was known for being anti social workers during the Camden strike in 1985/6? Politicians seemed to think that was what was needed.

In Unison we had complained for years that the social workers in Haringey were the 2nd lowest paid in London. Overnight the new management regime (who came in after Mary Richardson, Carol Wilson and others had suddenly left, before the Victoria Climbie story hit the press) put up the pay of Children's social workers (not learning disability, older peoples or physical disability social workers) by £8,000 for some. they introduced bonuses and enhancements such as the "Golden handcuffs" where you got £500 for staying in Haringey for 2 years, or the fast track up the spinal column pay scale so you jumped 2 spinal points (gaining £1,000ish) each year. They advertised and encouraged people to work in Haringey, straight from college/ Uni. They wanted people they could mould, not experienced social workers like me who might disagree with management decisions on cases. They got a full complement of staff very quickly, draining SW;'s from other boroughs.
None of the above happened elsewhere. The new targets were for all the UK, but those councils could discuss, debate and decide how best to do this without such pressure as Haringey got. It may be that some councils didn't implement them all - as long as they met their performance and inspection targets, they could be flexible elsewhere.

Why does such a regime lead to neglect of vulnerable children?

Because there is a human element to social work which cannot be measured and which you only get through life and SW experience. E.g. the skill and confidence to challenge a parent who you think is lying, to say "you look as though you have taken a drug, have you?" or e.g. with baby P "Wash his face, I want to see his face clean". Parents will react, get angry etc., but you have to stand your ground, that's what saves children's lives. The system, your manager etc. have to back you up. if you know they won't back you then you'll be reluctant to say what your guts are telling you.

On TV I heard a legal team had said there was "not enough evidence" to take baby P into care, 10 days before he died. If the SW knew that, she'd be less confident about challenging his mother.

From what you read in the papers, Baby P appears to have not reached a threshold of being so much “at risk”, that he would be taken into care. This is what people do not understand. Surely the professionals involved had the autonomy and responsibility to thoroughly examine and observe the little boy? Surely it is, in your training, very basic to social work to assess the truth and veracity of an adult’s claims?

Yes I agree with you. But Haringey had become a borough where the management and politicians believed that there was a process for everything and that if you followed all the procedures then everything would be OK. That's why i've been arguing that a business model (like haringeys) does not protect children, we need a welfare model. I like the welfare Child protection system in Scotland myself.

There is starting to be a debate about whether it is better to leave children with their parents (supported well or badly as the case may be) or take children into care. What do you think about that debate and about that issue. Is there a cost issue here?

At least in care they survive and don't die (usually). Every case is different and must be seen for its own merits. In Scotland, where we see a child at risk or in need, we try to engage the parents/carers as much as we can. We literally throw resources at them - if it will improve their and their children's lives e.g. nurseries, after school clubs, counselling, parenting classes, money for heating or food (but not drugs, we have to be vigilant with that one; supervised shopping may be needed) drugs rehabilitation, addiction services etc. If the parents engage then there's a chance to keep the family together with these supports. These resources are crucial.

If they don't engage, if they lie and avoid us then we're more concerned. We may need to take the case to a child protection case conference for more vigilant measures, or to the Scottish Children's Reporters System for  a hearing and a legal order.

You think the system of child protection in Scotland is better? Why is that?

The Scottish Children's Reporters System is outside of social services and is a welcome check and balance on the local authority. it was inspired by Lord Kilbrandon in 1968 who wanted to focus on young criminals and their "needs not deeds". Any child who comes to the attention of authorities e.g. police, schools, youth clubs, nurseries etc., can be referred to the SCRA. The SCRA is run by lawyers who have specialised in children's law. An SCRA reporter then writes to all agencies in that child's network and asks them for a report. They write to social services and we go out and meet the child, family etc. and write our report for the SCRA with our recommendation. When the SCRA have received all the reports, they decide if a children's hearing is needed. If it is, they call one and the child, parents, social services , school etc. are invited to attend.
There are three panel members (not all of the same sex)  who are members of the community and trained up to be SCRA panel members. they talk to the child and everyone else present, then decide on whether a legal order is needed. They are advised legally by a SCRA Children's reporter, they will have read all the reports on the case. They make a decision, in my experience they usually go with the social workers recommendation If e.g. a supervision order is ordered, it's social workers' job to visit the child and family every month with out fail and more so if neccessary. The case gets reviewed at intervals, decided at that hearing; it may be 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 8 months a year etc.
Social work managers meet SCRA reporters regularly for "case progression meetings". I feel that their objectivity and being outside of local politics and local spending decisions, makes them a welcome check and balance on social work departments. They will kick up if they're told "Child b can't go to this resource as the local authority can't afford it."

What do you think the labour movement should be campaigning for both politically and in terms of resources to address the issues of both social work and child protection?

There should be no limit on the amount of money that can be spent on children's welfare (remember Gordon Browns unlimited war chest? How about an unlimited child welfare budget?) A welfare system should be implemented with no illusions that the market place or businesses can help us in that. They have hindered our progress for far too long. There should be no witch hunts of social workers (the Sun is running a nasty campaign to sack all social workers in the baby P case).

It is complicated for the labour movement, as all the cases are different. The media loves heads to roll but I don't feel that helps us, as long as we get to the truth and prevent it from happening again. There were mistakes made with baby P, just as the man who threw his cigarette down led to the London underground fire, and the man who didn't close the bow doors on the Herald of Free Enterprise led to that ship sinking. We have to look at the whole story and improve things from there on. The social worker is said to be suicidal now, and I know Lisa Arthurworry is still suffering 8 years after Victoria Climbie's death.
So a few slogans e.g.
No witch hunts of social workers
Unlimited spending on child welfare services
A nursery place for all children
No waiting lists
Pupil support services in every school
A child Guidance Teacher for every child
A welfare system for children is paramount (based on the Children's Act: "The welfare of the child is paramount")

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