Wednesday, 26 November 2008

No excuse for a witch-hunt

With a number of inquiries underway to work out how to avoid a repeat of the horrific Baby P case and the recent case in Brighton on the news, a warning will be made today by the Chairwoman of the LGA about the risk of causing damage to the system in an effort to improve it.

“If we don’t work hard to maintain an objective and balanced approach, we’ll find the numbers of children entering care rising sharply, with some children who are objectively better off staying with their families unable, any longer, to do so, as the system becomes unreasonably risk-averse."

This is a key problem with the reaction to this case. Its understandable that the argument will be made that the problem with Baby P was that he wasnt taken into care soon enough and that lead to his death and therefore more children should be taken into care thereby stopping any future cases like this. Of course such an argument assumes the very worst of the parents and the very best of the care system. As Newsnight reported last week and will be reporting again in the coming months, care leavers have a whole range of situations and not many of them come out of the system ready for the wider world. Higher rates of mental illness, criminality and poor educational qualifications therefore leading to a restriction on their ability to find work are well known trends related to this.

While its easy to say "put those who might be at risk in care", there are serious issues with that. Is the care system able to take them? Will we not run the risk of overburdening social workers who are already being used as scapegoats for the Baby P case, when they will be criticised whatever happens? They get accused of either breaking up families or keeping children in abusive families. Its an incredibly hard decision to make for a social worker as to what to recommend unless its obvious which course to take. They make decisions that will affect the people involved for the rest of their lives and I for one applaud them for the work they do. They dont get given the credit they are due.

Does the care system have the capacity to provide an environment for them which is both safe but allows them to prepare for the future when they inevitably leave the system? Do we have the foster carers and interested prospective adoptive parents or will they spend their time effectively in limbo stuck in some care home? Placing a child into the care system means removing them from an entire family.

Its absolutely essential we not make a knee jerk reaction while the issue is hot then forget about the issue amongst the economic crisis. We are at serious risk of causing more problems than we solve and the lives of so many vulnerable children are at risk here and we must be wary of overreacting.