Wednesday 19 November 2008

Another tragedy of Baby P

There is another tragedy about Baby P. Not just the fate of a child at the hands of adults, but another twist in the rise of what I can only call the child abuse industry.

It means public officials will be even more nervous dealing with children. It means that suspicion will fall on ever more innocent families, and even more vulnerable children will be mistakenly and forcibly removed from their homes, and into the un-tender mercies of local authority care.

The other Baby P tragedy is that it will now be more, not less likely, that his tragedy will be repeated.

Over the past week, a whole army of people have emerged from the woodwork who have reported teachers, doctors and other people to Haringey for suspected abuse, and been ignored. This is not evidence of Haringey’s incompetence; it is one reason why have been so ineffective: because the child abuse industry has persuaded officials that any parents are potential abusers, that every illness that they can find no obvious reason for should bring any family under suspicion.

The truth is that, if every family comes under suspicion, there is no chance at all that welfare authorities can effectively police them. That is not the only reason for the the failure to keep Baby P alive, but it is one of them.

I wouldn’t be so glib as to say that abuse is obvious. Of course it isn’t. But it is a hundred times harder to spot if the field of suspicion covers everyone with children.


Costigan Quist said...

Excellent post. The way we're all encouraged to report everything suspicious is a real problem: it bogs down the services and does nothing to make us any safer.

It isn't only social services. When we're told to report all suspicious packages or people in the name of fighting terrorism, not to mention the huge databases the government is assembling, we see exactly the same problem. Too much data, too little good quality information.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Of course, any parents are potential abusers, and more so if they lead chaotic lifestyles, have unstable sexual relationships, come from abusive backgrounds themselves, dabble in drugs etc. But most muddle by, and I think we would generally say snatching a child away and putting into a care should be a last resort. Social workers work with families who are a mess, if they weren't a mess they wouldn't have social workers, and picking those who are really dangerous from those who are just a mess isn't easy. Any parents are potential abusers in that you can never be sure it isn't happening even though in most cases it isn't. The thing about this Baby P witch-hunt is that no-one is brave enough to say "these things happen" or "sometimes people make the wrong decisions because they genuinely felt it was right at the time".

It may be that Haringey social workers are sloppy, or tied up with red tape, or performing poorly due to bullying management, or whatever. But I have seen no sign that anyone made the wrong decision over Baby P because of self interest. Those who felt it best that Baby P stay with his mother were not evil people making a profit from Baby P's misery, they got no more personally from Baby P being with his mother than they would have from Baby P being in care. So I cannot see any case for saying anything but that these people genuinely felt the decision they made was the right one at the time, even though now in hindsight we can see it was the wrong one.

The danger with being unable to accept that "these things happen" is that we just try and patch them up by putting in more procedures, more bureaucracy to try and stop what we thought was the problem last time. The blame culture leads to people hiding behind procedures or covering up, or being afraid to make an intuitive decision rather than look at the rule-book, because they are afraid of the consequences of truly thinking for themselves then getting it wrong. The blame culture DOES NOT WORK - it leads to dull, unimaginitive, bureaucracy-laden, bully-ridden public services.

Anonymous said...

It doesnt need rash action from councils to sort this problem, it needs common sense. Decent families wont have their kids living in their own filth and being seen by council and hospital staff nearly 80 times in a year. Inaction has far more serious consequences. I am not able to read this full article as it makes me sick to the stomach, but this is clearly incompetence by the council staff.

(anon as i cant be bothered to register)