Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Recruitment Crisis and a Just Culture

In an article entitled "Child protection work facing recruitment crisis after Baby P tragedy" the Guardian's Patrick Butler reports that many child protection social workers have resigned because of media attacks on the profession in the wake of Baby Peter's death. 

Butler talks of "a long shadow" having been cast over children's social care and speaks of 
the results of workforce shortfalls being "catastrophic" for many councils. Sadly he does not provide us with the detailed figures, but there is every reason to believe that this report is accurate. Information from a variety of sources endorses what he says.

In this context, I was struck by John Humphrys' interview with Sharon Shoesmith on the BBC's Today programme this morning  
Humphrys said that the nation wanted to know that someone was accepting the blame for Baby Peter's death, because, he said, "... if they do not accept the blame, how can we stop it happening again"?

But the opposite may be true. We may only be able to stop it happening again if we do not pursue blame against individuals too far. Not only does the pursuit of individuals give rise to a defensive culture, in which nobody will admit to even an honest mistake, but it creates a climate in which many people simply do not want to do the job, waking up each morning wondering just how long it will be before they become another Sharon Shoesmith.

Sidney Dekker is a Swedish academic, who also is an airline pilot. In his role as Professor of Human Factors and Flight Safety at the University of Lund, he investigates safety failures in aviation, medicine and other sectors. In his book Just Culture (Ashgate, Farnham 2007) he argues that not having a just culture in organisations damages safety by obstructing investigations, creating fear and fostering bureaucracy. His book should be read by everyone who works in a safety critical industry, like child protection.

If we want people to work safely in child protection - indeed if we want people to work in the profession at all - we need a just culture; and that is precisely what we have NOT got.