Shoesmith exclusive interview: Coalition wrong on case reviews

Ravi Chandiramani
Monday, December 6, 2010

Sharon Shoesmith, the former Haringey director of children's services sacked over the Peter Connelly tragedy, has criticised the coalition's move to publish in full all serious case reviews into child abuse and neglect.

Sharon Shoesmith
Sharon Shoesmith

In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with CYP Now, Shoesmith said the policy would fail to meet its objective of boosting transparency and confidence in the child protection system.

Speaking two years after her dramatic sacking by the then Children's Secretary Ed Balls, she said: "The coalition has chosen to publish them ... I think the impact of it will be that the detail will find itself in the internal management reports [conducted by individual agencies] that aren't published, so the overview report will be a more benign document."

She said the second serious case review into Peter Connelly's case — ordered by Balls after the first was judged "inadequate" — "was commissioned by the Secretary of State to find the evidence to sack the social workers." Shoesmith added: "The conduct of the police and health was airbrushed."

She also questioned the concept of public accountability for social workers compared with other public servants, over errors of professional judgment.

"You can't have accountability models for one agency and different ones for another agency when they work together," she said. "Public accountability for me was being photographed on the tube and on buses. It was in my name and the names of my deputy, the service manager and the two social work staff as mugshots in a national newspaper. That's what social care professionals got as accountability."

Shoesmith applauded the creation of the College of Social Work: "We're not hearing a lot about social care from the coalition so they are going to have to fight for that strong voice." But she added that "they have to be aware of how their social workers work in a multi-agency setting".

While welcoming the Munro review of child protection, she said: "My criticism is that it has been single-agency-focused. The reality on the ground is multi-agency working and there are a huge number of dependencies across the child protection sector." She will speak about the issues of accountability and multi-agency working at the North of England Education Conference in Blackpool in the new year.

Shoesmith, who has been granted leave to appeal her case, speaks also of the ongoing personal toll of the tragedy on her and her family, saying: "There's not a day yet that I wake up and this isn't the first thing on my mind."


Reforms since Baby P

Social work practice has been subject to a number of changes since the case of Peter Connelly:

  • In March 2009, Lord Laming published his review into child protection services, calling for better joint working
  • The Social Work Taskforce, set up by former Children's Secretary Ed Balls, said an overhaul of social work training was needed in its final report in December 2009
  • In June 2010, the coalition asked all councils and local safeguarding children boards to publish future serious case reviews in full
  • Also in June, Professor Eileen Munro launched a review of child protection. The final report is due in April 2011.


Read CYP Now editor Ravi Chandiramani's leader

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