By Sue Carroll 8/09/2009
When famous liberal Martin Narey announces babies born to useless parents should be taken away for adoption, you know the game is up for hand-wringing social workers.
There’s no point, he says, in wasting time fixing families that can’t be fixed.
Since he’s head of Barnardo’s we can safely assume Mr Narey has witnessed some desperately sad scenarios. One of the worst, he recalls, was a 15-year-old girl who’d been dispatched to 46 sets of foster parents, sometimes arriving in a strange house, in a strange town in the middle of the night. All under the jurisdiction of social services. A stray dog would be awarded more dignity.
Since the Doncaster trial last week of two brothers who attacked, tortured and sexually assaulted two boys, the part played by their local children’s services has come under the same level of scrutiny as Haringey following the death of Baby P.
As ever, all this soul-searching is too little, too late. Actions not words might have saved the victims. Instead, indifference and stupidity on the part of social workers sealed their fate.
The brothers, infamous hellraisers in the former mining town of Edlington, were only taken into care three weeks before their attack and – this beggars belief – they were housed with 60-year-olds.
Asking the couple to cage lions would have been easier. They simply couldn’t cope and two dangerously out-of-control boys were left to roam free. But it’s not this incident alone which has prompted a review into the conduct of Doncaster’s social services.
In the past five years there have been seven similar “serious” reviews which suggests this is more than a problem, it’s a crisis with alarm bells ringing and sirens blaring.
When, recently, a new team was parachuted in, they found countless details of vulnerable children buried under a pile of paperwork and discovered protection teams were 20% understaffed.
Assuming this is a nationwide trend, is it any wonder the Government has launched a huge, high-profile advertising campaign to recruit social workers?
Quite how many are prepared to take up what strikes me as a poisoned chalice remains to be seen but I’d suggest they turn to the online magazine Community Care to read the disturbing accounts from those working on the frontline.
It would seem, regardless of how dedicated they are, the system prevents them from doing the job effectively. Among the litany of complaints are claims that senior management constantly changes, as do the rules.
Because the time allocated to each case is so limited, children don’t trust them and buck-passing is par for the course, creating a climate of fear with workers scared to speak out in case they are victimised.
If social work were a business it would be branded a disaster and the clear-out would be immediate.
Instead, it falls to the man from Barnardo’s to come up with the solution of whipping babies away from parents deemed to be unfit.
Certainly, it’s a policy which would make life simpler for overwhelmed child support agencies.
But who makes the decision a mother isn’t fit for purpose? Whose head does it fall on to take the draconian step of announcing a family dysfunctional? Another Sharon Shoesmith, perhaps?
Martin Narey means well, I’m sure. But the road to hell, let’s not forget, is paved with good intentions.