What do social workers think should happen following the death of Baby P?

From the BBC:

Eight out of 10 social workers who responded to a poll think new managers should be brought in at Haringey Council in the wake of Baby P’s death.

The Community Care website survey also found 86% of 250 respondents felt that the case of Baby P reflected wider childcare protection problems…

Community Care is a website and magazine for people working in the social care sector, at all levels of seniority.

Its readers’ poll found that 79% of respondents felt new managers should be brought in at Haringey Council following the Baby P case…

Deputy editor Emma Maier said the poll’s findings reflected serious concerns within the profession.

“The general feeling is that the Baby P case reflects wider problems in social care, despite reassurances otherwise from the Association of Directors of Children’s Services,” she said.

Many of those who responded said they believed the case highlighted “unrealistic” caseloads, too much paperwork, a lack of social workers, as well as inadequate training and supervision.

Respondents were also angered by “demonisation” of social workers and expressed concern that media coverage would lead to further recruitment problems.

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  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Nov '08 - 4:00pm

    People will no doubt say “yes” to the idea of more and better trained staff in this area, but will they say “yes” to the extra costs involved and hence higher council tax?

    Social Services expenditure in councils has been mushrooming upwards at a rate way ahead of inflation. And people have been moaning and moaning “rotten councils, why can’t they keep council tax rises at inflation level?”. And the Tories only recently suggested that catch-all solution to national government budget problems “We’ll cut back what we give to local government, they must be able to find savings” which has the unsaid thought “and if they can’t, people will blame them not us”.

    A big part of this is the way people are living longer and requiring more care at the end of their lives. But at the child protection level, the issue is the rise in “problem families”, with possible causes being the effects of widespread casual drug usage, looser sexual relationships, the decline in social organisations, the rise in learned helplessness caused by, well the right-wing say the welfare state, but I say big business consumerism is as much to blame etc.

  • Matthew,

    One of the reasons why 90% of the discussion we have been having on this subject is not very useful is lack of information.

    We simply don’t know enough about these three people to be able to tell with any degree of certainty how they ended up the way they did. (Though you are in a better position than most, since it appears that two of them were once your constituents.)

    Is the incidence of “problem families” actually on the rise, and if so, is this really attributable to the so-called “permissive society”, increased levels of recreational drug use, etc?

    We have no way of knowing if child abuse/child neglect is on the way up or on the way down, since accurate and meaningful historical data are missing. What we do know is that the unlawful killing of children is on the way down, and stood at 168 in 2007. (It is easier to determine if a child has been killed unlawfully than to decide if he/she has been abused or neglected, however defined.)

    The mother and stepfather of Maria Colwell, who was killed in 1974, were both born in the 1930s, so were untouched by the social changes that began in the 1960s. And I don’t think they took recreational drugs, other than cigarettes and alcohol.

    A look at Mayhew’s London or the novels of Charles Dickens would suggest that child abuse and neglect are not new.

    Incidentally, if social work is inadequate in this country (and I don’t think it’s that inadequate), it is surely a cut above its equivalent in Austria, where Joseph Fritzl was allowed to adopt children without social workers interviewing the birth mother. That couldn’t happen in the United Kingdom.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Nov '08 - 9:48am

    Well, I’m writing in terms of experience, the experience of growing up on a council estate (it wasn’t Maria Colwell’s Whitehawk, but it was another nearby), the experience of being a councillor for a ward which was a large council estate and was one of the 10% most deprived wards in the country, and the experience of looking carefully at the figures and policies of the Council’s Social Services department in the days before the cabinet system took away the flow of information on council work councillors receive.

    Relying purely on memories, it’s anecdotal, yes, but certainly the feel of the big estates now is very different from what is was then, and I am astonished by what I hear about life lived on them now as it certainly wasn’t like that when I lived on one. Sure, there were always problem families, but not to the extent there are now.

    Having looked at the ballooning budget for essentially “problem children” cases, yes to some extent I can see there’s a case it grows because the more you look for it, the more you find. But I am not convinced by the argument that the growth is entirely due to professionals working in this are creating work for themselves, those I have spoken to who work in this field are overwhelmed by the demands and certainly wouldn’t want to create more of it.

    Considering individual cases of “problem families” which I have dealt with as casework, or seen discussed elsewhere in council work, the use of recreational drugs and the absence of both parents is very often a factor. It may be that recreational drug use is now so common that the fact one sees it in so many “problem families” is just down to so many families, problem or not, using drugs. The fact that one very rarely sees a “problem family” where both parents of the children are living together might be discounted, there is the cause and effect issue.

    Nevertheless, the statistics on these things convince me that remaining silent on them because it embarrasses us as liberals makes us hypocrites. The line I have been taking on the Baby P issue is not necessarily that we should be turning back the clock on social liberalism, but that we might have to accept there is something of a tradeoff. In this case, if we allow the freedom of a woman to choose her own sexual partners, whether casual or not, to have children with whom and when she wants, and to live a lifestyle we may regard as unhealthy, we have to accept cases like Baby P will happen. The sort of rigid society which might help prevent them from happening – not totally, because there I’m not claiming these things only happen in obviously dysfunctional families, only that they are more likely – is probably too repressive for us to accept.

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