All children have a right to a happy childhood
Reading the report on Rotherham, which I have now done twice, is very like reading the reports about Victoria Climbie and Baby Peter in Haringey.
I know that in some ways the cases are different. The two Haringey cases concerned violence to a baby and a child. Duplicitous parents and carers were able to pull over the eyes of concerned or in some cases unconcerned staff who were unable to grasp the enormity of what was being done. In Rotherham it was sexual grooming in which it would appear council and other staff whilst not being implicitly involved certainly seem not to have acted when action was necessary.
But the real things that link the two cases are institutional inertia and professional indifference. To protect our troubled children we seem to need an army of people from different organisations to bring their professionalism to bear. Some of the professionals have taken years to acquire their ‘ism’ and have charts across the role to prove how clever they are at that ‘ism’!
In Rotherham that army included residential care workers, front line social workers, senior level social workers, council legal and financial and general management staff, Police, health workers, health visitors, charities, community groups, religious groups, teachers, educational welfare officers……. Et al. All earning a living; all protecting their organisation and all protecting themselves.
In Rotherham and Haringey the services were not drawn around the needs of the child but around the needs of the organisation. I regret to say, as someone who is hugely supportive of local councils, that the chief culprit in Rotherham is the Council. Either there appeared to be no high level appreciation of the industrialised abuse of children in the area or they did know and preferred for whatever reason to look the other way.
When reports came their way they were pushed aside. When whistleblowers blew they were either ignored or were harassed from bringing the bad news of what was happening out of the dark. Why were senior politicians and managers so poor? Why did they have so little comprehension about what was happening in their community. I can understand that they might not, to begin with at any rate, have believed what was being reported to them. Almost all of us find it hard to grapple even with the concept of abuse on the scale of Rotherham. But from 2002 onwards there was no excuse. A report was presented both local to local government in Rotherham and in London to central government. The report was quite clear although a little out in some minor respects. It portrayed things which should not have been brushed aside but which should have been investigated further.
I do have some sympathy with the Council – (although not much). As indicated above society seems to adopt a very different approach to other people’s children than when we deal with our own. When you deal with your own child you take on the job largely unqualified. No-one can or does teach you to be a parent. Although some help and training can be given you don’t know what it is like until you do it. Of course Mums and Dads get help from professionals. We all need help from the teacher, the health visitor, grandma and grandpa, neighbours and many others. But we get on the job of muddling through because we love our children and have a relationship with them.
That was the original concept of social work. When Seebohm pioneered the concept of social workers in the post WWII period he thought that a social worker would be in local parentis for children and in a different way for people with different challenges including the one that gets us all in the end – ageing! His idea was that a concerned person would be attached to each person in need. They would form the bond and contact against which other interventions and professionals could interact. But 15 different professionals from 14 different organisations did not save Baby Peter. Thousands of people over 15+years in Rotherham looked the other way or were just incompetent in dealing with the actions of skilled and scheming sexual predators.
So the Mayor of Liverpool, concerned about the involvement of our own Chief Executive whilst the Chief Executive of Rotherham during the period, has called for a public enquiry. Another one?! We have had public enquiries about issues like this until they have come out of ears but nothing has changed.
Yes there needs to be a full investigation of who knew what; who did what and who did nothing over that period 1999-2013. People need to be held to account and both officers and members should be made to face the consequences of their inactions. It would seem to me that both officers and members could equally be found guilty of malfeasance in public office for their roles during this period. If so they should face the full force of the law.
But we know what is wrong. Too many cooks spoiling the broth. Too many institutions; too many professionals; not enough love; not enough compassion; too much hand wringing; too much buck passing; too much paper work; not enough cuddles. It is the system that is so very, very wrong and until we change the system the Police, the Council, the Health Service will all be able to continue to play musical chairs to dodge responsibility until the last one without a chair is the poor front line social worker whose pleas were not heeded and who were not supported by those above them in the posh suits, and the deep chairs.
Have an enquiry by all means but not just into Rotherham but into the way we have over-professionalised and over-organised our care of our troubled children. The Government must set the lead in the development of a new mechanism. Its own response – the ‘troubled family’s initiative’ is too slow, too cumbersome and has not brought back into the centre the lessons needed to enable the change to be directed. A review could be done in months. We cannot afford to wait 2/3 years for a public enquiry into the activities in just one geographic area.
By the time a General Election is held all 3 of the main Parties or any combination of the same Parties if there is a coalition, should be ready to press the button and shake the child care tree to bring about the change which has been so evidently required for the past decade.