We’ve learnt nothing so there will be another Rotherham

Mmmm, tasty hands

Mmmm, tasty hands

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.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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2 Responses to We’ve learnt nothing so there will be another Rotherham

  1. Catherine says:

    While I entirely agree that all the senior officers and councillors in Rotherham throughout this period have some serious explaining to do, to put it mildly, the chief culprit there is clearly the police, since officers at all levels were what you could only describe as institutionally prejudiced towards poor white people and/or overly fearful of upsetting a minority. In contrast, Haringey seems to have been due to overworked social workers not doing their job properly, and medical staff who also failed to pick up on what was happening. Even the disgraceful file-trashing and bullying of the Home Office researcher by Rotherham Council officers seems to have been carried out at the behest of the police or at any rate with the encouragement of the police (there were several meetings between Fitzgerald, his senior officers, and the police to discuss the Home Office report in June 2002, and it seems likely their focus was what they probably saw as “damage limitation” for their respective organisations, at the expense of the people they were appointed and paid to serve).

    There are certainly lessons to be learnt in both cases, but they are not the same. The lesson for Liverpool and other local authorities from the Rotherham scandal is not so much about how to work together, as to make sure that their senior officers and properly scrutinised and made accountable. This has been a problem here for some time – and it needs to change immediately. It doesn’t need any changes in the law, all it would take is for elected councillors to take their responsibilities seriously and do what they were elected to do, which is serve their constituents, the residents of Liverpool, not their political party, local party leader or anything or anyone else.

    Because it’s not just social care by any means. There will be other aspects of the council’s work that are managed in the same way. I am interested and infuriated by the whole LDL thing as, everyone will probably have realised by now. And looking at the way councillors failed to admit or tackle its failings are an object lesson in the awful consequences of this failure to hold officers to account, It won’t be the only one, of course, but the parallels are striking. You know better than I do that in the 12 years of its existence no-one has ever been forced to answer any hard questions, that in the entire lifetime of the scrutiny panel the LibDems set up in 2008 after yet another damning external report, they were not given important and highly relevant documents, never received the information they asked for, and were never able to actually question McElhinney or anyone else. NWhat is this but a total inability to hold to account senior officers of the Council, people paid handsomely out of our taxes?

  2. Anon says:

    The Alexis Jay report says “By 2005 it is hard to believe that any senior officers or members from the Leader and the Chief Executive downwards, were not aware of the issue.” She says 2005 not 2002. She does NOT say that senior politicians or Fitzgerald saw the 2002 report, or that they “covered it up”, so please don’t extend the blame to 2002, when the report says 2005 is the “cut off,” even if it doesn’t suit your story in the letter to the Mayor about Mr Fitzgerald

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