1.4 Learning from mistakes, inquiries, reports and reviews
In the last activity, you explored some social work literature about managing risk. However, there is also the matter of learning from situations that have gone wrong. Social work with children and their families has been learning from inquiries into child deaths since the time of Maria Colwell in 1973. The Munro review was set up following the death of Peter Connelly, and made extensive recommendations for social work practice (Munro, 2011).
You may recall other high-profile inquiries such as those following the deaths of Jasmine Beckford (Blom-Cooper, 1985), and Victoria Climbié (DH and HO, 2003). Each of these had particular key learning points – for example, avoiding focusing on parental issues at the expense of the child (Beckford), and seeing and listening to children (Climbié). The serious case review following the death of Daniel Pelka (Coventry Safeguarding Children’s Board, 2013) identified some key learning points in relation to child protection and domestic violence. You could also look at the Jay report (2014) in relation to the sexual exploitation of minors in Rotherham. Each of these reports will add to your awareness of the possibilities for improving practice.
While the media may scapegoat and blame social work and other professional groups, inquiries and serious case reviews produce a more balanced set of learning points for practitioners and also identify wider issues such as system failure, the responsibilities of managers and the contributions of other professional groups.
Protecting children from harm at the hands of adults is a difficult role in which everyone, including the public, shares responsibility. It is important that, social workers read and learn from inquiries that are relevant to their area of practice; there is always something new to learn or something that reinforces previous knowledge.
In the next activity, you will watch a clip taken from the programme Newsnight (2014). It shows Sharon Shoesmith, who was the Director of Haringey Children’s Services between 2005 and 2008, discussing her role and responsibilities in relation to Peter Connelly’s death. This programme followed the broadcast of Baby P, The Untold Story.
Activity 4 Defensible decisions
Watch the Newsnight interview with Sharon Shoesmith, who was director of Haringey Children’s Services at the time of Peter Connelly’s death. She was subsequently sacked and has found it hard to get a job since. Note your own reactions to the interview and the issues it raises for you.
Transcript: Video 2 Sharon Shoesmith interview
The interviewer focuses on two issues: the causes of Peter’s death and the question of where blame should be apportioned. Did you think that Sharon Shoesmith made any progress in communicating her view that responsible accountability was different from apportioning blame? Or did she justify her view that the public was misinformed? She was clear about Haringey’s decision not to sack the social workers, who she argued were not guilty of misconduct. However, she was maybe less successful in defending her own role. She also attempted to convey the size of the problem of familial child homicide as a serious issue for society to reflect on rather than react to in a knee-jerk way in particular cases.
The interviewer emphasises the fact that all the agencies failed. (It can be argued in relation to Peter Connelly, the issues in paediatric services were as significant to his death as the shortcomings in the social work or police processes.) This joint failure was accepted by Sharon Shoesmith.
It is accepted that the central victim of the situation was Peter and that cumulative errors contributed to his death. The interviewer talked in terms of blame, while Sharon Shoesmith was trying to unpack the issue of public accountability. She argues that the media, police and politicians are all accountable and that the public debate should be more ‘honest’.