Baby P and the failure of the business model

From the Workers’ Liberty site, an account of how the business model imported from the private sector harmed the quality of a vital public service:

Until 2006 Pauline Bradley worked as a social worker for Haringey council, whose social work department has been in the news over the death of “Baby P”.

During her time at Haringey Pauline saw the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, the inquiry into her death by Lord Laming, and the subsequent reforms made by the government. Here Pauline, who now works in Dumbarton, explains why she thinks the social work system can fail children like “Baby P”.

The Lord Laming Inquiry made 108 recommendations, to do with tightening up procedures and communication in child protection. Updated computer systems were introduced which made it easier for social workers, occupational therapists and other professionals to record visits and communicate with each other. These systems varied in places and had teething problems too.

Not all Laming’s recommendations were implemented by central government, particularly the ones regarding how social work departments communicate with politicians and other agencies. Initial assessments, core assessments and other practices were implemented and should have been standardised throughout England and the UK.

The government was closely watching Haringey, so they pushed the changes through with vigour there to try to prove that all was different and better. The council changed their logo to “Better Haringey” to show a change from the bad old past.

The press had called the social worker involved with Victoria Climbie “incompetent”. Haringey Council wanted to prove they’d got rid of all the “incompetent, bad” social workers who were employed at the time of Victoria Climbie’s death.

But the new management regime were not qualified social workers! Anne Bristow, the new Director of Social Services, had many qualifications in management and marketing. David Derbyshire, the Children’s Director wasn’t a qualified social worker either. But the politicians seemed to think that was what was needed.

Our union, Unison, had for years complained that the social workers in Haringey were the second lowest paid in London. Overnight the new management regime (who came in after existing mangers had suddenly left, before the Victoria Climbie story hit the press) put up the pay of children’s social workers by as much as £8,000. (But not learning disability, older people’s or physical disability social workers). They introduced bonuses and enhancements such as the “golden handcuffs” (£500 for staying for two years), or a fast track up the spinal column pay scale.

They advertised for people to work in Haringey straight from college. They wanted people they could mould, not experienced social workers like me who might disagree with management decisions on cases. They got a full complement of staff very quickly, draining social workers from other boroughs.

Haringey was a special case after Laming. Other councils could discuss, debate and decide how best to implement changes without the same pressure

It may be that some councils didn’t implement them all — as long as they met their performance and inspection targets, they could be flexible elsewhere.

The problem with the regime at Haringey was that it deprioritised the human element to social work, which cannot be measured and which you only get through life and social work experience. For instance the skill and confidence to challenge a parent who you think is lying — to say “you look as though you have taken a drug, have you?”. Or in the case of Baby P: “Wash his face, I want to see his face clean”.

Parents will react, get angry, etc., but you have to stand your ground, because that’s what saves children’s lives. And the system, your manager, etc. have to back you up. If you know they won’t back you then you’ll be reluctant to say what your guts are telling you.

On reports I heard that a legal team had said there was “not enough evidence” to take baby P into care ten days before he died. If the social worker dealing with the case knew that, she’d be less confident about challenging his mother.

It is very basic to social work to assess the truth and veracity of an adult’s claims. But Haringey had become a borough where the management and politicians did not base themselves on social workers’ abilities but on the idea of a process for everything. If you followed all the procedures everything would be okay. Haringey had a business model of targets and form-filling. That does not protect children. We need a welfare model.

There is starting to be a debate about whether it is better to leave children with their parents or take children into care. At least in care they survive and don’t die (usually). Every case is different and must be seen for its own merits.

In Scotland, where we see a child at risk or in need, we try to engage the parents/carers as much as we can. We literally throw resources at them if it will improve their and their children’s lives, e.g. nurseries, after school clubs, counselling, parenting classes, money for heating or food (but not drugs, we have to be vigilant with that one; supervised shopping may be needed), drugs rehabilitation, addiction services etc. If the parents engage, then there’s a chance to keep the family together with these supports. These resources are crucial.

If they don’t engage, if they lie and avoid us, then we’re more concerned. We may need to take the case to a child protection case conference for more vigilant measures, or to the Scottish Children’s Reporter’s System for a hearing and a legal order.

The Scottish Children’s Reporter’s System is outside of social services and is a welcome check and balance on the local authority. It was inspired by Lord Kilbrandon in 1968, who wanted to focus on young criminals and their “needs not deeds”.

Any child who comes to the attention of authorities, e.g. police, schools, youth clubs, nurseries, etc., can be referred to the SCRA. The SCRA is run by lawyers who have specialised in children’s law. An SCRA reporter then writes to all agencies in that child’s network and asks them for a report. They write to social services and we go out and meet the child, family, etc., and write our report for the SCRA with our recommendation.

When the SCRA have received all the reports, they decide if a children’s hearing is needed. If it is, they call one and the child, parents, social services , school etc are invited to attend.

There are three panel members (not all of the same sex) who are members of the community and trained up to be SCRA panel members. They talk to the child and everyone else present, then decide on whether a legal order is needed. They are advised legally by a SCRA Children’s Reporter.

When they make a decision, in my experience they usually go with the social workers’ recommendation. If a supervision order is ordered, it is the social worker’s job to visit the child and family every month without fail and more often if necessary. The case gets reviewed at intervals, decided at that hearing; it may be one month, three months, six months, eight months, a year, etc.

Social work managers meet SCRA reporters regularly for “case progression meetings”. I feel that their being outside of local politics and local spending decisions makes them a welcome check on social work departments. They will kick up if they’re told “Child A can’t go to this resource as the local authority can’t afford it.”

There should be no limit on the amount of money that can be spent on children’s welfare. Remember Gordon Brown’s unlimited war chest? How about an unlimited child welfare budget? A welfare system should be implemented with no illusions that the market place or businesses can help us in that.

There should be no witch hunts of social workers (the Sun is running a nasty campaign to sack all social workers in the Baby P case).

It is complicated for the labour movement to have an effective campaign in the area, as all the cases are different. The media loves heads to roll, but I don’t feel that helps us; we need to get to the truth and prevent it from happening again.

There were mistakes made with baby P by individuals, just as the man who threw his cigarette down led to the Kings Cross fire, and the man who didn’t close the bow doors on the Herald of Free Enterprise led to that ship sinking. We have to look at the whole story and improve things from for the future. The social worker involved is said to be suicidal, and I know Lisa Arthurworry is still suffering eight years after Victoria Climbie’s death.

But there might be a few slogans for us: no witch hunts of social workers; unlimited spending on child welfare services; a nursery place for all children; no waiting lists for support services; pupil support services in every school; a Guidance Teacher for every child

And how about this: a welfare system for children based on the Children’s Act? “The welfare of the child is paramount.”

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Screws on strike!

I am still coming to terms with the shock of the prison officers’ strike. So I’ll let others speak. Obviously, I think that they did the right thing – and they are widely supported throughout England and Wales, and workers in Scotland will also be inspired by their courage.

First, John McDonnell:

The industrial action taken by members of the Prison Officers Association should come as no surprise to anybody familiar with the dire straits of industrial relations in the prison service. The trigger for today’s dispute is the Government’s decision to refuse to honour the Pay Review Body’s pay award of 2.5% and instead to insist that the payment be staged resulting in prison officers receiving less than the rate of inflation and significantly less than other assessments of the real rise in the cost of living.

The depth of anger amongst POA members can be gauged by the 87% vote in favour of the industrial action in its recent ballot. It is completely understandable why are they angry.

In 1993 the the Tory Government took away the POA’s right to strike. Despite commitments from Labour in opposition that this issue would be addressed, the New Labour Government refused to restore the right to take industrial action to the POA and instead established the Pay Review Body process to determine future pay awards. Any attempt by the POA to take industrial action remains outlawed under this Government and the President and General Secretary of the POA have regularly found themselves being threatened with legal action for what in other sectors of public service would be seen as normal trade union activities.

Hounded by further rounds of privatisation, under pressure from a dramatic increase in the prison population and with a £60 million savings exercise threatening less staff to cope, morale amongst prison officers is reported to be at rock bottom. Warnings are being made that the prison service is under the same pressure that resulted in the riots that saw prisons burning in 1990.

The Government has refused to meet with the POA to discuss its concerns and to resolve this dispute. As Secretary of the Justice Unions’ Parliamentary Group I have emailed Jack Straw’s (Secretary of State for the Ministry for Justice) office today to urge him to meet the POA to listen to their worries and seek a settlement to this dispute. The POA just want justice for its members.

The POA’s dispute is just the tip of the iceberg of the discontent that there is amongst public sector workers at the way they have been treated on pay, pensions, and privatisation by a Government most of them voted into office.

It’s such a shame that “Dr” John Reid’s gone. In place of Straw, we would’ve had Mr Mackay from Porridge

And from the BBC:

A strike by prison officers in England and Wales has ended after the union agreed to fresh talks with the government over pay.
All 129 prisons suffered disruption after a surprise walkout by staff began at 0700 BST on Wednesday.

Members of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) later defied a High Court injunction to end their action.

[…]

General secretary of the POA, Brian Caton, told BBC News 24: “After a day of what we describe as somewhat traumatic times in the history of the union, we will lead our membership back to work and we will do that in an orderly fashion and that is regardless of any court injunction.”

[…]

He defended the union’s decision to call the strike without prior warning.

“If we had given notice to anyone of our intention, we would have been taken straight to court and threatened with imprisonment,” he said.

“If they gave us back our rights and put us under the restrictions that every other trade union is under, then they would have had that notice.”

[…]

The announcement to end the strike came after officers in Bristol, Canterbury and Long Lartin had already returned to work in the afternoon, but other POA members had said they would stay out for 24 hours.

Prison Governors Association chairman Charles Bushell told BBC News all 129 prisons in England and Wales had suffered disruption.

During the day, prisoners were kept locked in their cells and senior managers took charge of duties such as distributing meals. Visitors were also turned away and court appearances cancelled.

Earlier this year the independent pay review body for prisons recommended to ministers salaries ranging from £12,000 for auxiliary staff to almost £32,000 for principal officers, representing a 2.5% rise in two stages.

Most prison officers start on around £17,700.

The POA, which has 28,000 members, said up to 90% of those who had been due on duty had joined the strike.

It said the walkout had been “widespread and unprecedented” and there was “lockdown” – where prisoners are confined to their cells – at most prisons.

At Liverpool prison, about 25-30 striking officers temporarily suspended their action to deal with three inmates who had climbed on to a roof and in Birmingham fire engines attended to deal with two minor blazes.

[…]

The prison population in England and Wales is close to capacity levels, with about 80,000 people held.

[Emphasis added.]

It was amazing. Only the other day, the culmination of a trial saw two corporations fined less than half a million pounds for failing to prevent an explosion that killed nine workers. This “punishment” – not a slap on the wrist, but a dig in the ribs – took three years. Yet today, the government could menace thousands of workers through the courts within hours of them taking industrial action.

And whilst workers are struggling against pay cuts, The News Line reports that

ALMOST a third of Britain’s 700 biggest businesses paid no corporation tax in 2005-2006, according to a study carried out by the official National Audit Office (NAO), the results of which were published yesterday.

The NAO found that 220 of the companies paid no tax, 210 paid less than £10m and 50 paid 67 per cent of the £24.4bn raised by the Treasury in corporation tax from the 700 in that financial year.

These 700 huge businesses pay only 54 per cent of the total collected in corporation tax, with smaller companies paying the rest.

[…]

According to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday, City bonuses paid at the end of the financial year in April were 30 per cent higher than in 2006. They amounted to a huge £14bn, more than half the national total of £26.4bn.

About a million people work in so-called ‘financial services’ (money manipulation and speculation) in Britain, but only the top executives of the financial groups will have pocketed bonuses running into millions. For example, a survey of hedge funds revealed that the two top directors of GLG Partners hedge fund in London, which manages £40bn, got bonuses of between £200m and £250m each.

It will be interesting to read tomorrow’s tabloids. How will the capitalist press paint this? In 2003, they heaped a ton of shit on the firefighters for taking UK-wide industrial action. But can they slag off the POA for acting in the interests of prison officers?

I doubt it, but then, I’m sure they’ll be as inventive as the BBC. As Tony, posting at Lenin’s Tomb, notes:

We’ve not seen images like it for over 15 years. The scene outside that prison in Liverpool at just gone 2pm this afternoon is required viewing. The local Prison Officers Association secretary on a wall, addressing a mass meeting. He’d just got off the phone to “our national vice-chair, Steve Gough” whose reaction to the government obtaining an injunction against the union was “tell them to stuff it up their arse”. The sound of journos’ jaws dropping was drowned out by the roars and cheers.

The biggest success of this action so far is the fact that it has taken place. The BBC, having had it as top item, moved it rapidly down the pecking order. No one can seriously doubt there was contact with the Ministry of Justice. This image of raw, effective, illegal action with the rest of the state powerless to do anything is one that the government, state agencies and employers will be desperate to bury. Typically, the BBC website has been at pains to quote union officers saying the action has to end because of the injunction, yet strangely, the newsworthy quote above seems to be missing from their story. In addition, of two pictures the BBC is showing online, one of them is of Bristol POA members returning to work.

When I got home today and saw the reports on the news channel, I wondered what the impact of mass telecommunications would have on industrial relations. But I won’t trouble you with my thoughts on that at this time.