Has Lord Laming come to the right conclusions?

OK – so now I’ve had time to have a look at all Lord Laming’s proposals (from his review into the state of Children’s Services following the Baby P tragedy) – but my view is not much altered as his report is much as I expected. Another 50+ recommendations because his first recommendations were not implemented.

There’s some good strengthening stuff – but I still can’t see what will make it different so that we avoid the next time. For example – take the Safeguarding Children Board. This is where all the partners around child protection meet to discuss children at risk. In Haringey it is the Board that Sharon Shoesmith chaired, and it is from this Board that the deeply flawed Serious Case Review into the death of Baby P flowed. So flawed that Ed Balls has ordered a second Serious Case Review to be produced and has put in an independent chair.

Lord Laming has recommended an independent chair for all Safeguarding Children Boards and he further suggests the addition of two members of the public – but I’m not convinced this will really deal with the sort of events that went wrong in Haringey.

In the case of Baby P, my understanding is that various of those attending the Board did raise matters of concern – but the management wore down those who raised concerns and in the end forced through what it wanted to do. So – whilst Laming’s proposal could be a help, what we’re missing is a requirement to minute the discussions and disagreements. Lord knows every other bit of information is recorded, computerised, etc etc – but no records are kept of these crucial meetings – and that makes it far too easy to bulldozer past disagreements.

Next let’s look at Lord L’s recommendation for a National Unit for Safeguarding to ensure his recommendations are implemented. Forgive me – but the last thing we need is more central attempts to micromanage what is happening on the ground all round the country.

The eyes and ears that can really help are on the spot – locally. The tragedy is that they were ignored by Sharon Shoesmith and by the Labour Haringey leadership. It’s a strengthening of local accountability and scrutiny that we really need.

What went wrong in Haringey was that the Labour administration, ineffective and defensive, didn’t challenge officers. Ranks were closed, jobs were protected and there was a refusal by Labour or senior officers involved to engage or listen to the many voices that were trying to warn Haringey that children were at risk.

Quite frankly – I could go on and on. There are wider issues untouched by Laming’s investigation: budgetary pressures, the inspection regime (inspectors say things are good, something goes wrong, inspectors say things are bad), the temptation to fudge or mislead when jumping through government hoops brings funding, the need for whistle blowers to have somewhere to take their concerns and have them acted on; the failures of the health services – and so on.

I don’t want to be a misery guts – but I just don’t feel that Lord Laming’s work is going to really cut through the culture and attitude that Labour Haringey operates and which is the reason (in my view) why we have now had two tragedies, Victoria Climbie and Baby P, in Haringey.

Laming's inquiry reports

Not (yet) had time to blog about Lord Laming’s report into the state of children’s services – so instead here’s a link to press coverage with my views:

Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, who represents Haringey in north London where the Climbie and Baby P deaths occurred, has repeated her calls for a full public inquiry into the Baby P case.

She said: “Clearly the rulebook doesn’t need to be rewritten, the rules just need to be applied. To do this, Haringey needs two things above all – more accountability and more openness.

“However, key questions remain unanswered, such as why did Haringey’s whistle-blowing policy fail so badly?

“Why were the people who warned that something was wrong ignored? We have had review after review and yet we seem no closer to the truth.” (epolitix.com)

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.