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.


Rick said...

Social work will remain operating under the fallacy of mechanistic system. We have seen the Police move in that direction "Operation Kratos" (Or wizard of oz or whatever they called it) that led inevitably to the shooting of De Menezes.

And with "Systems" it is inevitable that recruitment attracts those who like pleasing laid down procedures.

The Police have moved in that direction and, I suppose, the watershed was nearly forty years ago when Sir Robert Mark said "We no longer recruit the most able but the most malleable as police officers"

We have to re-embrace the time tested concept of "Charging individual officers with duties" and get away from recruiting clones who follow procedures prescribed to them and amended after each headline catching tragedy.

No matter how many academics sit down to "Learn lessons" they will never create a mechanistic system to address the problems flung up by humanity.

We live in a prescriptive society with the postwar generations educated into its servitude.

What does "Multi agency approach" mean ? Buck passing.

What does "Answering to line manager" or "Team conference" mean ? Buck passing.

I spoke with Michael Child a couple of days ago and was surprised that he did not know my role in exposing Thanet's care home industry in the mid 70s.

What happened was that I had serious lung damage and had to work as a clerk for a few years. I was a medically unestablished clerk working for DHSS at Broadstairs. One day in 1975 a homeless man walked in to claim benefits (cash daily).

His name was Edwin Baars and he ended up featuring as the exemplary character in a Panorama programme and I ended up being threatened with charges under Official Secrets Act over the Panorama expose

Baars had been discharged from a mental hospital in another county and given a letter and a single ticket to Margate (to arrive homeless as eventual fodder to end up in one of the area's benefits funded care homes. This was his caring hospital social worker letter.

The final line read "This man is truly in need of sympathetic help and guidance"

The social worker who wrote that had sent him bewildered and homeless to the seaside.

Why ? Because he was told to.

Because he is a man who does as he is told not a man to be charged with a duty because that requires individual honour and integrity.

Baars was a victim of a prescriptive society in which those paid to care are "Jobsworths". They may be sentimental jobsworths, self aggrandizing jobsworths but they are jobsworths.

And as Robert Mark warned us (and before him Winston Churchill warned us) Police have become a managed service like social services. Ironically the major casualty is "Service"

I had to be vetted, as an electrician to work on MOD plant with unaccompanied access and to serve in TA in the 80s.

This run in with the Official Secrets Act came up and this is how it was resolved by a memo from General Officer Commanding

"If it is not the DUTY of a British soldier to protect vulnerable citizens then I would not serve in this Army"

(I was subject of OSA as Long Term Reservist of Army up to 1989)

After the Panorama expose there were two more TV documentaries and a change of care home law.

That change should have been generated by Social Workers. They embraced job security, did as they were told until the matters were brought to issue and new procedures laid down and the system continues still carrying its inherent flaw.

Rick said...

I should add that I cleared at Top Secret unaccompanied access all site.