Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Baby P Effect

The newspapers are full of stories about the substantial increase in care applications. See, for example, this report in the Guardian and this one in the Independent, both of which appeared in the last 24 hours. Now, this isn't new news - it has been reported for some time that the numbers are up, but I haven't done any care work for many years, so I have hesitated to comment. However, I think that some comment is required.

The primary reason for the increase is, of course, the Baby P case. Agencies are fearful that they will be vilified for making mistakes by failing to protect children, and are therefore applying for care orders in 'lower level' cases, where they would not have done so previously, effectively passing responsibility to the courts. This, of course, is having the effect of overloading the system, which is struggling to cope. This, in turn, will mean more delay in cases where children are in real danger. It will also almost certainly mean that more children will be removed from their families unnecessarily.

This is not the way the system should work. It is, however, the inevitable result of those working in the child protection system being subjected to hysterical, uninformed media criticism, without proper support from government. As I have said here before: who would be a social worker? It is virtually impossible to do a proper job when you know that your every decision will be publicly scrutinised, and your first mistake will likely be your last. I'm sorry, but no system is perfect. People do make mistakes, and anyone saying that we 'must prevent another Baby P tragedy' is just not living in the real world. We cannot prevent tragedies from ever happening. We can, however, minimise them, but this will only happen if those working within the system are allowed to do so without fear.

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Update: I find it somewhat ironic that the media are now saying that innocent families are suffering.

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