‘Survival not service’ ethos helped to cause scandal

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The system of childcare in the UK has created two sets of victims. The first and most tragic are the children themselves. The second are the workers in the field, the social workers and police officers.

Successive governments, with their emphasis on compliance, exemplified by targets that often have nothing to do with addressing the needs of the users, have trapped the public sector management into becoming unsupportive bureaucrats, almost with the camp guard mentality (“I am just following orders”).

Consequently, survival trumps service. Targets will be met, whatever the cost. Form-filling will take precedence over getting out and listening to the families. No-one is happy about this, except the leaders who designed the system and, who on seeing the correctly completed compliance reports, enjoy an illusion of control. The child is no longer the customer, the compliance regime is.

Three years ago, Professor Eileen Munro, a respected social work academic, published an authoritative report to the government on child protection that laid bare many of the faults of the defensive, rule-bound current regime and recommended a shift away from targets and statutory guidance towards a child-centred approach. It was ignored. We are all human, and avoiding blame in this current excessively punitive environment, is understandable.

What is not understandable, or acceptable, is the behaviour of the leadership who designed this system in the first place, from council heads to the police chiefs and the Home Office. They set the targets, they ignored the signs of stress at the workplace – and worst of all they did not act on the evidence. This is wilful blindness, and this is where the enquiry needs to start and stop.

Dr John Carlisle

Dover Road, Sheffield, S11