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Baby P: the failures and the fallout

It is no surprise that heads have rolled, albeit belatedly, over the death of Baby P.

Following what was described as a “devastating” report by inspectors from the schools inspectorate, Ofsted, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspect and the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sharon Shoesmith, the director of Children’s Services at Haringey has been suspended and council leader George Meehan and the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, Liz Santry, have resigned.

Since the public first learned of the facts surrounding the death of 17-month-old Baby P, there has been a clamour for action to be taken against those deemed to have failed the little boy.

He had been on the child protection register and had been visited a staggering 60 times by social workers, police and health professionals during his short, sad life.

There was outrage when Ms Shoesmith said the inquiry she had led into the case had found that no-one was culpable in any way.

The Northern Ireland-born woman totally misread public opinion by twice refusing to apologise for the

death of the boy. While it would be wrong to prejudge any final inquiry into the boy’s death, it was an undeniable tragedy. Ms Shoesmith, as head of the local social services team, should have led the expressions of sorrow and apologised in general terms. Her defiant refusal to issue an apology only made her the subject of more intense scrutiny.

Yesterday’s report from the inspectors found that there was no effective co-ordination between the agencies involved in the case; there was poor gathering, recording and sharing of information and, there was insufficient supervision by senior management. These were inexcusable flaws given that Haringey was involved in another high profile child

death case just a few years ago. That council, above all others, should have been an example of best practice, yet it was far from so. Of course, those faults are not unique to Haringey. We have seen them reported in other cases involving similar tragedies.

Now a new inquiry is to be held into Baby P’s death with a summary of findings to be published in March next year. Ofsted is to carry out unannounced annual inspections of children’s services around the country and authorities in England which have had previous black marks against them are to be checked to see if they have made improvements.

These moves can hardly be described as a radical shake-up of children’s services. It is a surprise that

children services are not subjected to annual check-ups at the very least and poor performing authorities should certainly be reviewed frequently to ensure that they do come up to scratch. Given how the system totally failed Baby P, the action suggested yesterday is the minimum of what the public expects.

It has to be accepted that providing care for vulnerable children is not an exact science and that hard-pressed officials with heavy case-loads can err in their judgements. That is only human. Social workers will point out, quite rightly, that they are responsible annually for protecting thousands of children who might otherwise come to harm.

But the signs of abuse in the case of Baby P were so evident and the omissions of those professionals who saw him so glaring, that the public has little sympathy for those who have lost their jobs as the result of his death.

The hope now is that systems of supervision, co-operation and reporting can be tightened and enhanced to prevent other toddlers’ cries for help going unheard.

Belfast Telegraph

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