Haringey needs intensive support

Ravi Chandiramani
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who would want to work in Haringey children's services? As we reveal this week, care proceedings in the London borough soared after Baby P's death dominated the news.

Haringey is an unfortunate protagonist in the story of Every Child Matters: Victoria Climbie's murder there set the reforms in motion before failures to intervene in Peter Connelly's case called them so publicly into question. The latter's death prompted sackings, a "devastating" verdict on safeguarding and Lord Laming's review of child protection, which called for a "step change" in recruitment, training and supervision of frontline staff.

If confidence was shot to pieces in children's social care in general, you can magnify that tenfold for Haringey. In July, Ofsted found only limited progress in tracking care cases and in its capacity for further improvement.

Health visiting has suffered too. In May, CYP Now revealed the numbers of full-time equivalent health visitors in the borough had plummeted since Baby P's death. And Haringey continues to be a magnet for bad publicity. This month it was revealed the borough placed a foster child in the household where one of the convicted airline bomb plotters resided.

Doncaster, where seven children died through neglect or abuse since 2004 and safeguarding is also judged as "inadequate", has become almost as notorious. The two young brothers from there who tortured two boys had just been taken into foster care. It is now recruiting a new children's services management team. "Inadequate" authorities can turn things around. Ofsted last week praised Surrey for improvements after a spot check.

The national campaign to recruit social workers and reform training and support should help matters nationally. But Haringey and Doncaster are special cases. Like especially vulnerable children, they need targeted support to end the spirals of decline. Government intervention has thus far focused on highlighting their failings and on new management. But they need intensive frontline support. Their dependence on high numbers of short-term agency staff must be addressed.

The surge in Haringey's care proceedings might mean practitioners are exercising more scepticism on their household visits - or that they doubt their own judgment and regard care as the safe option. Whatever the case, there must be "golden hellos" and a PR campaign to attract the best frontline workers in the toughest areas. This won't eradicate their myriad social problems but it could keep more children safe.

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