Child protection: my conference speech

Here’s my speech in the child protection debate at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth:

I was leader of the opposition on Haringey Council when Victoria Climbie died.

We were promised that lessons would be learned. That it would never happen again.

But lessons were not learned.

And it did happen again – with the tragic death of Baby Peter.

And it happened because the rotten culture of Haringey didn’t change, the secrecy didn’t change, the unwillingness to listen to outsiders didn’t change, the instinct to close ranks and turn backs on warnings of problems didn’t change and key senior people didn’t change.

After Victoria Climbie’s death, the only person who had to carry the can for all the failings right up and down the management chain was Lisa Artherworry – the most junior social worker at the end of the food chain. She took all the blame – and it’s the memory of that buck-shifting and failure to change that drove me and my colleagues to campaign so hard to say that this time, after the death of Baby Peter, there had to be a real clearout of those who had failed – however senior.

But my deep-seated fear is that it was only the outpouring of public grief and anger , the focus of national media coverage and – yes, to his credit – the intervention of Ed Balls – that forced change – and so when that attention moves on, will the old ways return once more to Haringey?

That is why we need to attract the brightest and the best social workers and managers to Haringey and give them the support and the resources they need to do the job.

We need to get rid of the tick box culture that takes away all personal responsibility. We need to enable professionals to use their brains and their instincts and their critical faculties. We need a performance regime that doesn’t give gold stars based on rubbish inspections which, the moment things go wrong, turn out to have failed to spot a myriad of problems. We need whistleblowers to be listened to and followed up on.

And, above all, we need to ensure that all those running similar services in future know the full lessons of what went wrong and why and how – so that they can do their level best to ensure such mistakes do not happen again.

But there are still too many unanswered questions.

Why did all four senior consultant paediatricians in the children’s health team resign, go off sick or go on special leave? That’s why there was a locum –the locum who unbelievably didn’t recognise Baby Peter’s broken back and broken ribs. Has whatever caused that health team to descend into such chaos really been sorted?

And what about the inspection regime that gave three stars when only weeks later Haringey Children’s Services was damned to hell by that same inspection authority – Ofsted? What value in the next inspection – whichever council it may be – saying all is good?

What about, what about, what about?

Too many questions to fit into this one speech are still unanswered – and that is why we still need a public inquiry and we need to publish the Serious Case Review.

We cannot stop innocent children being born into families where – instead of love and comfort – they get cruelty and misery – but we can and must do better than we have.

That must be our commitment. That must be our mission.

Support the motion.

0 thoughts on “Child protection: my conference speech

  1. “We cannot stop innocent children being born into families where – instead of love and comfort – they get cruelty and misery”

    Actually the families the children are born into aren’t the problem in most of these cases. Most child abuse (especially on younger more vulnerable children) is carried out by mothers and their new boyfriends. If the fathers weren’t banished from their children s lives (or didn’t walk out as in some cases) then most of these problems would not occur, or at least could be stopped far sooner.

    It’s highly inaccurate to blame the family the child is born into when in reality it’s the next family unit that casues so many of the problems rather than the biological one – I would have though Lynne would be able to understand this and very much hope that’s mistake rather than her actual opinion.

  2. A lot of the problems also are instigated by social workers that are unskilled and looking for problems when non are around seperating fathers from their children ,all some fathers want is to be able to love their children and do the best they are able too without being accused of abuse physical and sexual when there isnt any ,delibratley making it impossible for a proper household when there is no mother, writting stupid reports of a dirty car when they cant complain about the house, im sure that they single some fathers out as a easy target because they cant catch the real abusers ,when all you want is for help to look after 6 children with handicaps not sarcasm of what do you us to do get them ready for school for you ,or made to feel like you cant manage because of their deliberate interventions ,when your up all night with a child who is totally blind ,cant walk or talk to tell you why their scared or hurting or dont know its night time ,and they turn up unanounced and ask why isnt the room tidy or dishes done after breakfast ,or why your little 12 month old son keeps calling you mummy instead of daddy in nursery ,they are happy and think they have won over someone when they did no harm and would never harm a hair on a childs head ,or when you try and get your life back together and all you have is your 16 yr old son with no disability and try and get a job to support yourselves only to be told by the ss on a “visit” you can only work between 9am and 3pm when your working day starts at 7am and finishes at 4pm the social services have done more harm to my family than anyone ever could in the name of child protection with lies and total untruths ,why dont they go and find these scum of the earth like baby p parents or victoria climbie’s there is lots out there ,and not try and go for a easy target that is too scared to even cough in case they are dsoing something wrong.

  3. Paul – obviously you have had some really dreadful experiences with social services and I am sure there are many good fathers who experience similar problems. It seems very harsh and I think however hard it is – you just have to keep on remembering that your children need to know that you kept trying to be a good father whatever the barriers and difficulties.

  4. i kept on trying to be a good father my son is now in university and also working ,my other son is trying to get a job but finding it difficult due to being blind but has had excellent exam results, my children have my unconditional love but now i can’t be a father to all my children as the ss are making it very difficult and i know the next time i see them all they will be 16-18 if they ever want to see me again as im sure that they are being told things that arent true .