Sharon Shoesmith, the council official, has finally gone. It is a pity that she had to be pushed. But its good news that Haringey council leader George Meehan, and the cabinet member for children and young people Liz Santry, actually fell on their own swords. And four more social workers have been suspended pending a review.
This is good news. And there is another chink of light, in this awful story. John Coughlan, who has taken over running the council’s children’s services, is a good man – one of the best in such posts that I have interviewed. He has plenty of impressive experience, including being the Joint President of the Association of Director’s of Children’s Services. He understands, at the visceral, getting hands dirty level, the importance of getting all the different parts working together. The children of Haringey will be better protected because of his appointment. But the bad news continues to flow through, as well.
The fact that another child in the care of Haringey was injured so badly that yet another Serious Case Review has been launched, is sobering – and suggests that Haringey’s child protection system needs root and branch reform. The fact that we, as journalists, are not able to read the Serious Case Review into the death of Baby P in full, is also disappointing. In some cases they are, in fact, published in full – I’m thinking of the excellent one that Cornwall County Council published about the murder of Steven Hoskin, a disabled man who was brutally murdered in 2006, for example. Councils need to look at ways of providing more than the bare bones of SCR’s to the media – whilst protecting confidentiality where necessary. Context is all – an executive summary is rarely enough. Indeed Beverley Hughes, the children’s minister, admitted, as such, when she said that the Baby P SCR summary was not “clear about accountability”.
And the Lancet’s publication of a series of articles on child abuse, by international experts, makes for sobering reading too. Many children are mistreated in wealthy countries, academics say, but are not removed from those who harm them because professionals have little faith in the care system and therefore fail to alert social workers. This has to change – good foster care can work miracles with damaged children – but obviously the system is in danger of being overrun as a reaction to Baby P. We don’t want the pendulum to swing back to removal being the first option. Social workers and those who support them are going to have to find some middle way between sentimentalising kinship bonds, at all costs, as is the case now, and removing too many children, unnecessarily. The Queen is likely to say in her speech today that Family Intervention Projects (FIPs), which support families in crisis, should expand. Again, this is all well and good – as long as they support the right families. At the moment, too many families with disabled children with behavioural problems (who have asked again and again for tailored support) find themselves receiving unwelcome attention from FIPs – while families where abuse or neglect is going on escape such attention.
So, lots to think about for Ed Balls and Michael Gove. Baby P’s death will cast a long shadow over children’s services – not just in Haringey, but in the UK generally. How best to balance kinship care against public care? How to help social workers to plot a path between zeal and sentimentality? How best to improve both foster care and parenting projects? These are not either/or issues and certainly shouldn’t be political footballs. We have to get all these things right – not come down on one side or the other. Baby P deserves nothing less.