What will Lord Laming have found?

The Laming findings on how his recommendations following the Victoria Climbie tragedy have been implemented will be reported tomorrow.

I have had some qualms about Lord Laming looking at his own recommendations as I have been afraid he might not want to find fault. However, he takes the issue of child protection extremely seriously and is the wise old owl who realised that the leadership was key to changing the way a department works – hence the Children’s Act 2004 which made clear where individual responsibility should rest – and so ultimately was why Sharon Shoesmith and Liz Santry were in the frame.

From all the leaks, I expect that Laming will have looked pretty thoroughly at social workers’ caseloads and discovered that they are not kept to the 12 cases I believe he recommended. But I also hope that he has looked at the line management. We were all gobsmacked that Baby P could be visited so many times to no avail. Surely we must see the creation of a culture where if the social worker visiting is too scared or inexperienced etc to ask to see the child from top to bottom – it would be normal for her or him to go back and report this, be supported, and be accompanied back to satisfy themselves of the true condition of the child.

More tick boxes and process driven stuff is the last thing we need – so I’m glad that Laming looks to be staying clear of that. However, I am pretty sure that the atmosphere on the Safeguarding Children Board in Haringey was such that the members gave up putting forward their professional views – as my understanding is that they were simply over-ruled by management and bludgeoned ultimately into silent acquiescence. This needs to change – and so a key recommendation I will look for will be to have the Board discussions and particularly disagreements minuted. They are not currently.

Outside of the leadership and management within Children’s Services – I am fearful that the wider issues will not feature – and those wider issues if not examined now will cause us regret after some future tragedy.

So what about the joining together of education and children’s social services – has it worked? I tread carefully as they were joined to stop children falling through the gap – but clearly in Haringey the Director of Education found herself then in charge of an area where she had no experience. How significant was that? During the furore – Ms Shoesmith was supported by many Heads of Schools who praised her education record – but amongst the hundreds of people from social services who contacted me, not one praised her work on that side.

What about the issue of Haringey Labour Council not heeding any of the warnings that children were at risk? They had plenty – from me, from relatives, from whistleblowers and from opposition members. They ignored all of them. If something is wrong – how can the administration be made to listen? Secrecy, cover-ups and rank closing were the culture of Haringey Labour and officers. Gagging orders, injunctions, refusal to submit to scrutiny and so on meant that no light shone on what was going on. Moreover, even since the furore and the shaming of Haringey – Labour are still blocking moves to proper oversight.

Then there’s the inspection regime. Ofsted gave Haringey three stars just whilst all this was going on under the cover. How can we rely on an inspection system that failed so miserably? And what of the Government whose system of stars makes authorities jump through hoops to get funding and autonomy – putting the temptation in front of people to fiddle and distort the system?

And what of budgetary pressures – they are ever-present. It was said that in an email managers were told not to take children into care because there was no funding. What part did this play?

And finally – what of the nightmare going on in the health services? More of that later.

So you can see – whilst I am hopeful Lord Laming’s recommendations will address some of the issues – in my view we still need a public inquiry on these other issues to ensure that the whole debacle and failure that let Baby P be killed is properly and extensively addressed.

Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2008)

No real surprises here, with one story dominating your and my attention – the awful death of Baby P.

10. George Meehan and Liz Santry resign – the two key Labour councillors (council leader and lead member for children’s services) finally took responsibility for Haringey Council’s failings.
9. Baby P investigation update – thoughts following a meeting with Cabinet minister Ed Balls.
8. Panorama on Baby P – my advance thoughts, particularly on how the pressure to agree may result in people not sticking by their concerns.
7. Baby P at PMQs – a very brief post, but got lots of traffic due to the Brown-Cameron spat making that PMQs very high profile.
6. The departure of Sharon Shoesmith – my reaction to the (eventual) departure of the head of Haringey’s children’s services and education.
5. The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan – in which I explain why I believed they should take responsibility for the errors and blunders exposed in the Baby P saga.
4. Brian Coleman and the Fire Brigade – see no.3.
3. Fire Brigade rushes to help – the Brian Coleman saga where, for latecomers, I feared for my and family’s safety, called the Fire Brigade – who said I did the right thing – but Brian Coleman (Conservative London Assembly member) took it upon himself to criticise. Cue numerous comments on my various blog postings and via my website from firemen agreeing with my actions.
2. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – after initially being kept secret, the review was shown to a small number of MPs, myself included
1. Baby P verdict – reaction to the trial verdict.

So – that was the last quarter. Let’s see what gets your attention in the next one…

What to make of yesterday?

The day of reckoning when finally George Meehan paid the price for not listening, not heeding and not doing the job he promised to do after Victoria Climbie. I remember the breast-beating Council meeting back then – ‘this will never happen again’, ‘lessons must be learnt’ and ‘I personally will sit on the child protection committee’. Though no-one senior took responsibility and resigned.

Mr Meehan’s departure this time is, however, just one drop in this dreadful ocean. Liz Santry has gone because her position put her in the legally accountable position. But neither went until the depth of the failings in Haringey were blazed across the country as Ed Balls read his statement – ending the hopes they had of hanging on. There was nowhere to go once they knew the damnation contained in the Ofsted report.

But remember, only last Monday at Haringey’s Full Council meeting, every one of the Labour councillors backed George Meehan and Liz Santry – and that’s part of the problem too. And why I say that Labour in Haringey has lost sense of right and wrong. Over-politicised, each move only to ensure their political future. That is an issue that bears scrutiny too.

Anyway – in the cold light of the morning after the night before – I am thinking that Ed Balls lived up to his name – and did the necessary and did it well.

I might and do disagree with him on the degree of holding safely by an outside team and don’t understand why he is giving any sort of time lag before deciding next June whether to take the Children’s department away from Haringey. I think he would have been better to put it into full special measures and then give it back slowly as and when Haringey has proved itself changed.

And the other area of disagreement is around the need for a public inquiry – which I still believe is absolutely vital to get at all the issues, wider issues, virtually untouched by this short sharp investigation. This was right for the short term and the urgent situation – but in the longer term there are sheafs of unanswered questions. More of that later.

For now I just want to really pay tribute to the people of this country, whose outpouring of grief and anger stoked the fires, and to the media whose relentless pursuit through broadcast and press left no place to hide.

And to all those in the Commons who kept the spotlight on Baby P and forced the issue. Without this force majeureHaringey’s Labour council would have bunkered down and simply hoped to let the storm pass – like last time – and then in a few years time we would have been here again wondering how it could happen three times in the same borough.

The verdict on Haringey Council

So – the report finds Haringey Council guilty – and then some. I have never seen such a damning and devastating criticism of an authority as this litany of failure – both systemic and personal, and at every level and more or less in every agency. But particularly singled out for special damnation – Haringey Council.

So – given all that, what an earth is Ed Balls doing commissioning more reports and waiting until next June before removing Haringey Children’s services from council administration? Yes more information may be necessary. Yes – Balls is right to put in John Coughlan to lead the department back to health. But we need children in Haringey who are at risk to be held safe in full special measures and only given back to Haringey itself as the department is changed, new management structures put in, and staff either re-trained, sacked or exonerated depending on their part and culpability.

When and as Haringey proves itself worthy of taking control of Children’s Services – then and only then – should they get the department back. They have to prove themselves first.

As to the resignations of George Meehan and Liz Santry – it’s a shame it took until they publicly had nowhere to go in the face of such extreme criticism before they finally acknowledged their responsibility.

And none of this sadly goes to the heart of the rotten culture in Haringey which is secretive, arrogant, rank-closing and abuses power. Lord knows I have been shouting this from rooftops for long enough. Now at least I have Ed Balls and the Government shouting the same thing with me!

George Meehan and Liz Santry resign

Just got the news: Haringey Council leader George Meehan and Liz Santry (Cabinet member for children and young people services) have resigned. Update – Sharon Shoesmith has been removed from office too.

Here’s the Sky report:


The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan

On Saturday went on Ken Livingstone’s LBC show.

Most of the time was spent on Baby P, not surprisingly. Just to break for a brief moment from Baby P – Ken said at the end that I could spend the last minute ranting about whatever I wanted. So I did. I made an appeal to Gordon Brown to re-open the sub-post offices in London that he has closed. Having decided to stop any further closures it seems to me that those of us who were unfortunate enough to have had the axe already fall should have the closures reversed.

Back to Baby P – Saturday was the day Sharon Shoesmith received some support in the form of a letter to the media from 61 head teachers in Haringey. Sharon is Director of Education here in Haringey. As Ken put it on air – she’s their boss.

But this isn’t about her competence or otherwise in education – it’s about her responsibility and accountability for the social services side of her brief – which includes having – under the Children’s Act of 2004 – the responsibility for child protection in Haringey. Under this legal framework her and the political leadership side of the equation have the ultimate responsibility.

Whilst she has – rightly – been in the firing line, thus far George Meehan, Labour Leader of Haringey Council, has not had the decency to step forward to take his share of the responsibility. He was leader too during the Victoria Climbie affair – and it is worth remembering some of the damning conclusions in Lord Laming’s report:

The manner in which a number of senior managers and elected councillors within Haringey discharged their statutory responsibilities to safeguard and protect the welfare of children living in the borough was an important contributory factor in the mishandling of Victoria’s case … I was left unimpressed by the manner in which a number of senior managers and councillors from Haringey sought to distance themselves from the poor practice apparent … [The report’s criticisms] are directed not just at the front line staff … but at senior managers and councillors.

Neither George nor any of the other councillors so criticised resigned their posts then.

What Sharon Shoesmith, Geroge Meehan and Liz Santry (the Haringey Council Cabinet member for this area) don’t seem to understand is the really, really deep sense of outrage amongst the public.

One illustration of the depth of public concern and anger over this issue is that in the last week my website has been read more heavily that at any time ever before. My office is inundated with phone calls and emails – all virtually of one voice – how could this happen again in Haringey and this time they must not be allowed to get away with it.

During the time of the Laming inquiry I wrote a newspaper column, quoting Ambrose Bierce – and the quote seems all too apposite once more: responsibility is “a detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbour. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it on a star”. If only it were not so.

Liz Santry and Haringey Council's website

You may have seen in the local papers how Haringey Labour councillor Liz Santry (Haringey Council Executive Member for Young People) has had a go about a supposed mistake on this blog.

In brief – I said Haringey had failed to properly publicise an important public meeting through its website, and even now – as I write this and after she wrote to all and sundry saying I was wrong – the relevant web page doesn’t mention the meeting at all.

In more detail – I wrote on 6th February:

So – the second meeting of the ‘New School Bidders’ for the competition to take control and author a new secondary school in Haringey. If you remember, we kicked up at the first meeting because there were only six were members of the public.

This time it was a packed meeting – maybe a hundred people. I had put out an email to my lists as I am never convinced that a notice in a local paper – which is the standard Council approach – really reaches everyone. It’s a good thing that other people did promote this meeting as Haringey Council did not even get round to updating their website pages about the new school to mention the second meeting. But this time we didn’t leave it to just the Council – and got a far, far better attendance.

Haringey Council’s website pages about the new school is here and is found if you take the obvious (albeit long!) course through the menus from the council website front page: Home >> Children and Families >> Schools and Education >> Consultations >> New Secondary School

It only mentioned (and still mentions) the 16th January (poorly attended) meeting and not the one on 6th February. In fact, even as I write this now that meeting is still not mentioned – even though the page is noted as having been updated on 13th February.

Yet Liz Santry claimed in her letter that my blog entry was “Completely untrue. The appropriate web pages were updated on 17 January and will remain active at least until the consultation period closes.” All rather undermined by the absence of a mention about the second public meeting to go with the mentions of the first meeting – you’d have thought someone would at least have hurriedly added the information after she sent off her letter of complaint!