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.