Saturday, 13 September 2014

Looking into Rotherham

It is hard not to feel dispirited at the sight of everybody jumping on the we’ve-got-to-do-something-about-Rotherham band wagon, especially when several of the key players in this new game are not exactly known for their expertise in the area of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has asked Louise Casey to lead an investigation into what went wrong in Rotherham.

Ms Casey is clearly a go-getter and undoubtedly popular with Conservative ministers, like Pickles, who doubtless share her uncompromising views on homeless people and troubled families. But I can see no mention in her numerous published profiles that she has any experience at all of dealing with investigations into child sexual exploitation.

And I don’t think that understanding what went wrong in Rotherham is going to be a matter of expressing ‘uncompromising opinions’ and banging a few heads together, which seem to be characteristic of her style of interaction. Painstaking forensic analysis seems to me more likely to be the only way forward; and I don’t think that’s her style.

Nor do I have much faith in Ofsted being able to draw on a well of expertise in carrying out its proposed thematic inspections into CSE.

There are only two short ‘good practice resources’ on child sexual exploitation on the Ofsted website (one concerning services in Blackburn and the other in Staffordshire). These are thin, superficial descriptive documents of four or five pages each. There is nothing analytic, nothing penetrating, nothing which seems to be based on research and nothing particularly insightful. In short, there isn’t much.

Nor has Ofsted much of a track record when it comes to participating in inspections across services. The inspectorate has only recently been persuaded to join, somewhat reluctantly, in integrated inspections for children in need of help and protection. But uncovering and understanding the kinds of failures that happened Rotherham involves looking at how a whole range of agencies – police, courts, health, social care – deal (or fail to deal) with CSE. It involves systematic investigation and analysis of their interactions, or lack of them, and of the organisational cultures contributing to the failures.

Finding out the extent and nature of what has gone wrong in Rotherham is vitally important. What we do not want, however, is a series of documents that are packed with the preoccupations and ill-informed opinions of people and institutions that are more influenced by organisational and political agendas than by a dogged determination to unearth the unpalatable truth.

If I read anywhere in the mounds of documentation which are likely to amass that management was not ‘robust’ enough or that ‘case-file auditing’ was not ‘embedded’ I will just have to scream.