Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Shoesmith, Safety and the Sun

There is a very interesting entry on the Community Care Children’s Services Blog written by former Haringey Children’s Services Director, Sharon Shoesmith. 

Much of this post is concerned with supporting the cases of social worker Maria Ward and team manager Gillie Christou who recently lost their appeals against dismissal in the Employment Appeals Tribunal. Maria was Peter Connelly’s social worker and Gillie was her manager.

I strongly endorse support of this nature. A most unpleasant stink hangs over the whole business by which individual Haringey staff were named and shamed for what was clearly a corporate failing. 

As I keep reminding people, Professor Sidney Dekker argues forcefully and convincingly that a JUST organisational culture is a precondition of a safe working environment.
As long as there are stark examples of workers who appear to have been treated unfairly there will never be the trust required for employees to draw attention to the error traps in the organisation. As Professor James Reason puts it: ‘Without a detailed analysis of mishaps, incidents, near misses, and “free lessons,” we have no way of uncovering recurrent error traps or of knowing where the “edge” is until we fall over it.’ (BMJ VOLUME 320 18 MARCH 2000

Those who stoke up the blame culture do nothing to make abused and neglected children safer. Indeed the effects of their actions are invariably negative, resulting in fearful staff, defensive cultures and ultimately organisations in which learning is made more or less impossible. The opposite of what is intended is achieved. Employees are afraid to draw attention to unsafe working practices, so more and more children are put at risk.

Which brings me to Sharon Shoesmith’s interesting remarks concerning the Sun newspaper’s campaign against Haringey employees at the time of the Baby Peter tragedy. Shoesmith refers to the communication between Ed Balls, then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and the former editor of the Sun, Rebekah Brooks, which Brooks revealed to the Leveson enquiry on 11th May 2012.

Now if there was ever a clear example of the blame culture, the Sun’s disgraceful campaign for ‘justice for Baby P’ is clearly a paradigm example. And the thought of Rebecca Brooks, the architect of that campaign, having privileged access to the relevant minister, is indeed a chilling one.

Sadly one is left to conclude that rather than base our child protection system on sound safety principles, developed by the likes of Reason and Dekker, we have allowed the likes of Rebecca Brooks, a strident tabloid editor who probably knows nothing about safety (or children's services for that matter), to be paramount. 

We must ensure that this never happens again. Management of child protection is too important to be left to tabloid newspaper editors.