At the end of a perfect paper trail lies the shattered corpse of a dead baby. The facts scream out at us. 60 visits from professionals in the last year. Procedures not followed. One on four social work posts unfilled. Silence from the 150k a year leaders of these services.
OK, so, beyond the recycled headlines what is wrong here? I know a lot of people in this world and this is what they tell me.
Firstly, many local authority children's departments are poorly led and badly managed. This creates a vicious circle of declining performance. A friend of mine leads a local child protection team in the East of England. Upon taking over the team, he had several vacancies, two staff on long term sick, two about to leave and a number of people he personally deemed incompetent on this team. `How many strong individuals did you have?' I asked him. Two he said. Out of a team of eleven. And he counted himself in this number. `What kinds of problems does this cause?' I continued. He he told me there were people in his team who had problems with the language and reading the subtleties of communication (they were recruited from overseas), other who couldn't write reports, keep basic records and manage relationships. confronting parents and tended to opt for the least distruptive line-of-approach.
Secondly, according to my friends, the system used tends to create a situation whereby all the agencies get involved and the process is followed but nothing happens. Accountability gets blurred and people engage in blame-passing. The professional cultures of the different authorities jar and communication is often poor. Inter-agency working - the glue that binds the system together- is just not happening in many areas.
Thirdly, there is a culture of `working with the family' which sometimes gets in the way of the necessary hard-headedness to say to people that you think they are are lying and you're not giving them the benefit of the doubt. A lack of worldliness and toughness is common among social workers, I am told.
Now, if this is a child protection team in a fairly well-to-do part of the world what it is like in places like Haringey? I imagine that chaos and complexity of a place like that is very much reflected in the way its public services operate.
Is there an answer to this? Yes of course there is an answer. It was never inevitable that Child P was going to die. There were countless opportunities to remove him which were lost. The local authority has a lot to answer for and, yes,senior heads should roll and the department taken out of council control for a time. Outsiders need to get in there and turn the place over.
I just can't believe there has been no resignation. If anything truly terrible happened in one of my services I would hope I would do the decent thing. Even if the Director of Children's Services was not personally at fault (which I doubt) it is right and proper that they stand down. Just like the Controller of Radio 2 did over a far less offence.
The Government also is to blame. They have set up these `Safeguarding Teams', , inter-agency panels led by the council, which oversee the way councils are dealing with `at risk' children but placed them within LAs rather than at one remove. This is wrong-headed. In the case of Haringey, reports into how the case was handled would be signed off by the same person whose department is under scrutiny. Total madness.
Finally, the social work profession needs to take a close look at how it works. There is a strong feeling among the public that social workers prioritize the wrong things and that political correctness plays too much a part in decisions. Especially in big London boroughs where social work teams do not reflect the local population. We have to support social workers to make the right calls and not to fear being accused of racism or being anti-poor people.
And the third sector? Could we make a better fist of child protection? I am sure we could add something to the mix but I am not sure if the sector's skills and capacities are yet fully up to the challenge. I suspect we could easily end up , if commissioned drawn in the laybrinthyn madness of local authorities' ways of working. Nearly every local authority I have encountered has an internal culture that is, to put it politely, unhelpful to the disposition of its duties. I fear we could end up toxified bv that as I doubt they would give any third party the freedom to operate in any way differently or even slightly beyond their control.
I end my week with two children in the house sleeping. One is just a couple of months older than Baby P. When I saw those images, I saw my son. His soft skull, his simple needs, his beautiful eyes and soft skin. Just like those of Baby P.