Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baby P

I used to work for the London Borough of Haringey.

It is a borough too often in the news for all the wrong reasons.

I wasn’t in social services although my job did bring me into regular contact with that department. My area of work was community relations and I was there at the time of the Broadwater Farm riot where PC Keith Blakelock was murdered. As you may imagine promoting good community relations following that terrible night wasn’t easy.

When Victoria Climbie died it sounds awful but I wasn’t surprised. There were many inadequate workers at the Council but they either went unchallenged or we noticed they got promoted. It was all too easy to understand how an inexperienced social worker without proper support from supervisors could fail a child with such terrible consequences. The fact that it is happened to yet another child within the same borough - in fact just a few streets away from where Victoria died, is however not so much as surprising as frankly beyond understanding. Where a mother has actually been arrested twice on ‘suspicion’ of child cruelty and both times released; where a child is recognised as being at risk and is on the local Child Protection Register; where a child has been taken into foster care because of concerns for his welfare and safety – for crying out loud how many serious concerns does any authority need to have before they remove a child for his or her own protection, let alone the very Local Authority who had failed Victoria Climbie?

I am trying to get my head round this and I do think that partly The Children’s Act of 1989 is at fault because this emphasises that the best interests of a child are normally served by keeping the youngster within their birth family. I quote directly from the Act: The underlying philosophy in the provision of services is to work in partnership with parents and children to prevent the breakdown of family relationships and minimise the need to have recourse to Court or emergency protection.

So what workers are supposed to do is take every possible step to keep a child at home; whether by putting in a family support worker to assist with parenting, sending a parent on courses designed to help them care properly for their children, or anger management training, or ensuring respite care for the child and parent. So the social workers act as a family friend and inevitably form some kind of relationship with the parent/parents, and that does make it difficult to reach the decision that the child needs to be removed because actually in this case the family represents danger for that child. That same worker moves from being a helpful family friend to Family Enemy Number 1.

If the case gets to court, because of the basic premise of The Children’s Act the Family Courts in care cases will always insist on knowing what measures social workers have taken to keep the family unit together and if they don’t think enough has been done they often return the child to their parent/parents. The court appointed officer (The Guardian ad Litem) who investigates the circumstances for the child will first and foremost look into how that child can remain at home. It is the social worker who has to fight that belief within the adversarial atmosphere of a court case that a child’s interests are best served by remaining at home – with support from the services if necessary. It isn’t surprising if maybe a worker will be over optimistic that a family can be trusted to care for the child safely when the alternative is becoming immersed in hostile proceedings. We also all know the poor outcomes for children that do end up in the Care System.

Yet so often it is glaring obvious from the very beginning that a child needs to be removed from their family. In my work now I summarise care files for people who went on to be adopted and I often read in disbelief at the sheer scale of recorded abuse which was allowed to continue for months and in some cases years before children were removed whilst parents are given one more chance after one more chance to prove they can adequately protect their children.

Having said all that though I still find it inexplicable that workers in Haringey of all places could fail to spot what was going on with this poor Baby P (and why he can’t be identified along with his mother and her partner I really don’t understand?*) when they were visiting his home week in, week out. One thing stands out to me in all the horrific catalogue of injuries… (Baby P had) Blackened finger and toenails, with several nails missing; the middle finger of his right hand was without a nail and its tip was also missing, as if it had been sliced off.

How does anyone involved with the welfare of a child miss that?

* the doting parents had another child when she was in prison so that explains the anonymity.

Wednesday - I just read the serious case review. Not only did the mother have another child in prison - there are three older siblings to Baby P. Wonder where they are right now the poor, poor children.


Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Empathies. Cloud and I have been describing the family focused motives of Social Services as being 'keep the child in the family. Keep the child in the family. keep the child in the family. Get the child as far away from the f-ing family as possible'

Unsurprisingly this puts the social workers in a terrible position and also makes it baffling for the family to understand how this person/people went from being supportive to, as you say, 'Family Enemy Number 1' in seemingly an instant.

Should things have been picked up in this case? It's hard to reconcile many scenarios where it was possible to ignore what was in front of them. But what if visitors and health workers just accept the 'he's cold so he's all wrapped up' or 'he's asleep so can we not disturb him or the 'sorry I haven't had time to clean him up yet'? You would think where there are already alarm bells that these sorts of remarks (I'm assumming they might typify the 'deceit' mentioned by the Social Services team) these remarks would be challenged at least on alternate encounters. It seems not.

I would also add that the adversarial aspects of our benefit system (honesty in declaring living arrangements generally doesn't help improve income) aren't particularly conducive to supporting the very types of families in trouble who may need the most support.

Just my two-pennies: great piece btw.

Fire Byrd said...

This is a great post.
No doubt heads will role, but will they be the right ones.
Will it stop aabused kids slipping through the net.... Nope
We just have to hope that increasing awareness and education make their mark before it happens again.

Gill said...

and what about the health services? what was their role? The child was seen at a hospital wasn't he?

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Thanks for educating me. My instinct is always to support misunderstood and overworked social workers but in this case it does seem clear that the poor baby was the victim of the helping agencies' incompetence as much as the wickedness of its parents.

J.J said...

Hi Lisa - one of the most important things we do as social workers involved with a family is keep a chronology. Thus a one off - 'he is grizzly and can't be disturbed' is recorded and when there is a series of 'he is grizzly and can't be disturbed' then we have a clue that he MUST be disturbed. More than that patterns of unexplained injuries and behaviours emerges and gives us our evidence. Seeing as how Baby P was visited 60 plus times where the hell was the chronology in his case?

Pixie - I think we do have to spread the message that child protection is everyone's responsibility. If any of us have concerns we have to act on them.

Gill, yes, it wasn't just social workers that failed this child in a carbon copy of Victoria Climbie's case. He was seen two days before he died - and his broken back went unnoticed.

Just exactly how mad does that last statement sound?

YP - it is good to know that at least some of the public do empathise with social workers who are damned if we do and damned if we don't. But it is very hard to understand given the sheer extent of the contact they had with this family, why Baby P could not have been saved.

Jay said...

I haven't been able to read the details of this case. I did read about Victoria and was haunted for weeks with images of her poor body in the bath.

I don't understand how this can happen again in Haringey or all places. You'd think they'd be hypersensitive wouldn't you? What do we need to DO to make sure this doesn't happen again?

J.J said...

Yes Jay - that is exactly what I think. You would imagine Haringey would safe guard children more closely than any other authority in the entire country.

Reidski said...

What do we need to do? Erm, not kill our children!

Pretty straightforward, that one!

And, btw, I'm not making light of this, it's just that no-one seems to be talking about the main issue - this child's mother killed him!

J.J said...

True Reidski. Very, very true.

Edward said...

Every college student looking at social work as a career will gain from reading this book, Invisible Kids - (