Haringey Council's systematic failures

Some months after the lawyer for Nevres Kemal (the whistleblowing social worker) had written to the four ministers David Lammy (minister as well as the tragic Baby P’s own MP), Patricia Hewitt, Ivan Lewis and Rosie Winterton and got no satisfactory response – her story finally came to me – can’t say how.

Concerned by what I heard – anything that links Haringey with serious failures in child protection automatically sets alarm bells ringing – I decided that the best and most direct action I could take would be to bring it to the attention of George Meehan who, as Leader of Haringey Council (as he was at the time of the Victoria Climbie tragedy), ultimately must bear responsibility for its actions.

I personally wrote to him, both about the issues raised by Nerves Kemal and also two other cases which I thought indicated a systemic failure in Haringey’s Children’s Services.

I quote a few of the paragraphs from my letter of November 2007:

There have been a few cases in terms of Children’s / Social Services issues that concern me and I wanted to bring them to your attention…

[There] is a seeming repeating pattern. A parent or social worker makes a complaint about something to do with a child – be that against the school or the Council department. From analysing three cases in particular, what seems to happen is that the first instinct of the authorities is to turn the complaint on the complainant in a sort of closing of ranks.

I then go on to describe the three cases, the third of which being Nevres Kemal:

The third case: Social Worker Nevres Kemal. I’m sure you know she was dismissed for breach of confidence and trust. But my concern is the pattern again – that tables appeared to turn on her after she raised the issues of no medical reports being completed on a case.

The point I am raising George, is that it would seem that there is a pattern of the Council exhibiting more interest in protecting the school, Authority, department than investigating the actual complaint. Moreover, that in seeking to protect the ‘establishment’ the real issues are not being investigated – which may lead to incompetent people staying in post, bad practice and so on – and worst of all – children being at risk … I could not rest easy without bringing this initially to your attention.

I then asked for a meeting, and finally managed to get one with George Meehan on 31st January 2008. Ita O’Donovan (Chief Executive of Haringey) was in attendance at George’s request – so it was Haringey’s more senior politician and most senior member of staff at the meeting.

I brought the case histories and the letters with me and went over my extreme concerns with them both. They assured me they were as concerned as I was and Ita O’Donovan said she was looking at this in particular and commissioning an expert examination (I believe that is what she said).

But chasing letters following the meeting asking what had happened were not responded to.

So whilst Ms Kemal raised concerns with Ministers – and I subsequently raised them face-to-face with those directly accountable in Haringey – it seems from the unfolding of tragic events that neither route produced the right response. And the horror of this is that if both at local and national level there was no effective response – then we do not have in place adequate safeguards.

0 thoughts on “Haringey Council's systematic failures

  1. Clearly a very sad and persistent management failure, something that we see across too many parts of the public sector. But the culture that has allowed those aggressive responses (and lack of action) to go on and on is now being challenged and is retreating – we have to keep on pushing it back, and replace it with a culture of competence and high quality. Please keep up the good work, Lynne.

  2. Ita O’Donavan was previously CE of Stoke on Trent Council and within Weeks of her Resignation the Childrens Services were taken under GVT Ministerial Contraol opne particular area being Child protection? Why no metion?

  3. But what you fail to understand is that in terms of the system Baby P was a complete success.The Ofsted report, two months after the death, confirms this, when it applauds the coucil for reducing the number of children on the at risk register.Maria Ward in her reported evidence during the trial, as stated in the Haringey Independent 26th Sept 2008, says that the mother was co opertaive and understood the need to remove the child from the at risk register and was co operating fully with the plan.From a human perspective it is unfortunate that his removal form this key incator happened in the form of death.But from the perspective of the government, Ms Shoesmith, and Haringey council, ofsted etc this death was useful as it allowed them to demonstrate that the system was working and the service was improving…. i.e. they had successfully removed a child from the at risk register.And indeed had he not died in such shocking circumstances, and had not the public been so outraged by what they now learn 15 months down the line about the nature and circumstances of his death, after numerous attempts to whitewash the affair: including attempts to withhold information from the criminal trial and the report which Gordon Brown attempted to justify, and claimed the government was going to learn lessons from at PMQs – which if Fergus Smith, one of the authors, in the Times is to believed was somewhat less than comprehensive – as he had no remit to request files or witnesses and was ‘discussed’ with Ms Shoesmith the week before publication – even he conceeds that ‘very worrying’ evidence, which emerged at the trial, was not included: the significance of this death would be as nothing (of course it is in human terms, hence the outcry) compared to marked inprovement of childcare within the borough of Haringey.And before you accuse me of cynicism, it is not me who designed the system, and it is not me setting the performance targets which offer an incentive not to put children on the at risk register and to get them off as quickly as possible once they are on it, and it is not me who uses those statistics in an attempt to prove that this country is goevrned well and ever improving.And further more it is not me who hired Sharon Shoesmith in order to use her ‘expertise’ and understanding of the way in which ofsted operates to improve child services.Nor is it me who is now briefing that the law needs to be changed to presume children should be removed from their parents. Completely ignoring the ruling justice Munby, meaning thousands of people with mental illness, particularly depression, are once more thrown into fear of coming into contact with the medical porofession or social services, will no doubt result in more people fleeing into exile in order that they might bring up their family (all in contravention of the Disability Discrimination Act when there is no evidence that any of these people have in the past, or will in the future harm their children) And the real lesson of this tragedy, that the system of targets is completely unsuitable for preparing the necessary court cases, and ensuring best professional practice, again remains totally unlearned.Can it really be a good thing for children to be removed from their parents?When no one in authority knows who is living at the home address (despite apparently being told), or essentially anything about the personal circumstances of the family? Or in the case of the police, do not take notes of interviews with suspects in an investigation, and then expect people to believe their accoutn of what transpired on notes written after the event? Leading to the evidence essentially being called a pack of lies in court. Or that no-one contacted the doctor who refered the child in the first place? Who had expressed their serious concerns about the the wellfair of the child on the notes.All of which came out under oath at the trial, yet for some reason has been overlooked. And in the case of the doctor, far from there being no evidence, as the police, CPS and the lawyers at Haringey legal services would have you believe, the jury appears to have accepted the evidence of Dr MacKinnon that there was no explantion for the injuries other than they had been inflicted maliciously. Yet for some reason two police investigations concluded overwise – not that the police mind because they managed to clear up two crimes – three if you count the trial at the Old Bailey.

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