There has been understandably a collective public outrage over the tragic death of Baby P, who was known to social workers in the same local council where there was a similar tragedy eight years earlier.
It was later revealed that concerns about the management of Haringey social services made by staff to both the council’s leadership and government ministers fell on deaf ears. Because of the council’s poor reputation, the department suffered regular staffing and funding shortages, and as a result, social workers, particularly less qualified ones, were having to deal with more complex cases than they should have done, and they had little or no support from local managers. A number of social workers who did try to speak out were either disciplined or dismissed. There also have been claims that complaints made against social services were repeatedly either ignored, or failed to be followed up.
There’s also the wider political fallout. The local leadership of Haringey Council has backed Sharon Shoesmith, the head of the department responsible for child protection in the borough, even though it was widely known that she was in part responsible for the practices which lead to the baby’s death. The council’s leader and the executive member responsible for childrens’ services have said they would not resign over the scandal.
It is bad enough that Haringey had to face scrutiny over one death… but two? That in many peoples’ eyes seems like carelessness. No doubt there will be the usual government inquiries with new recommendations made to make sure children are fully protected. But they will not deal with the fact that child protection services across the country has suffered both from gross under-funding, and the government’s mania for persistent structural change. Staff working in these services are often having to deal with children in mainly either deprived neighbourhoods or ‘challenging’ households, are often poorly paid and work longer hours.
The real tragedy of Baby P is that children who are at serious risk or are currently being abused in Haringey will be denied help, because of the widespread distrust of the council. That in turn would certainly lead to more tragic child deaths.