Safeguards for children in care in England are being yanked away in the middle of a pandemic
The pope addresses a crowd of half a million people in Dublin at the closing event of a fraught two-day trip to Ireland, which has been dominated by the issue of sexual and institutional abuse in the Catholic church. In his penitential prayer, the pope listed specific forms of abuse, including sexual crimes and forced or coerced adoptions.
I remember the last papal visit to Ireland. It was 1979, and I was aged 13. I went to a Christian Brothers school. I sang at mass every Sunday, occasionally did readings, and the youth group I attended every week took place in a convent.
I remember being envious because my older brother and sister got to see the pope, but I didn’t. I was in the minority in that regard: a staggering 75% of the population saw John Paul II during his three-day visit. One-third of the population attended the papal mass in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. That event remains the largest single mobilisation of people in Irish history.
I remember the most iconic moment of the visit, during a youth mass in Galway. The pope’s voice booming out across a crowd of 300,000 young people as he proclaimed: “Young people of Ireland, I love you!” I remember the ecstatic cheering of that huge crowd in response. And I remember my own heart feeling like it might burst as I watched it all unfold on television. I believed him. He loved us. No one had ever said that before. It was huge.
Eighteen months later, I was raped for the first time by a Roman Catholic priest. The abuse continued for two and half years, until I was 17, and I fled. More than a decade later, I finally found the strength to report those crimes. That complaint would eventually lead me to uncovering the crimes not just of one priest, but the cover up of the crimes of many others by bishops, cardinals and even popes. It led to me suing a pope in an effort to force the Vatican to tell the truth of what it knew about the rape and abuse of children by its priests.
Some time ago I was sitting in the Sunday school room of a local church, with posters made by kids depicting the teachings of Jesus curling at the corners on the walls. I was there to do my advice surgery in my role as a local councillor.
A man came in to ask for help getting his family moved to a bigger house. His daughter had two children who had been removed from her care but were allowed to live with her on condition that she live with her parents and they acted as guardians. I diligently took down the names and ages of the children to assess the size of house they needed.
With all the existing checks and balances abusive practices still continue to occur so no one should ever consider to reduce the existing checks and balances. If there are to be changes made then these changes should strengthen these, not make them weaker.
Those persons who are deemed to be vulnerable need the total protection of extensive Safeguarding Procedures and Practices forever and a day.
I first published this article 7 years ago. It’s unfortunate that so many people still fail to understand the need for robust Safeguarding processes, especially when the same people often express mock outrage at child abuse cases that the Safeguarding system attempts (& often manages) to prevent.
Child and Adult Protection have become increasing concerns over recent years. Several high profile incidents involving abuse of vulnerable people have prompted UK society to look again at the systems we have in place to safeguard those who need it most.
Social media currently features ill-informed and often frankly unconvincing outrage on behalf of Rachel Booth, a school dinner lady who attended a rally organised by Tommy Robinson (EDL founder & notorious Islamaphobe).
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The key issue for me, and probably for most of the survivors who this inquiry was designed to give a voice to, is one of trust. Theresa May fought for this inquiry.She fought for us. Back in July 2014 when she announced it as home secretary, you could almost see the eye-rolling going on among certain Tory party members. Yet, to her immense credit, she persevered. And then came the catalogue of mistakes, disasters and obstructions that, to all but the most naive of us, simply scream cover-up.
Social workers have a very demanding and stressful job and situations can change day by day, hour by hour so they have to be allowed to do the job for which they are trained to do. Not only do they have to deal with families, but also the demands from higher management to work in the ways which the senior managers decree, which in some ways may not be in the best interests of the persons to whom they have on their case files.
The cuts to local authority budgets have put a strain on all council areas and Social Services is not exempt, for to save money recruitment of social workers may not be a first priority, thereby less social workers are available creating a further stressful element.
All managers need to be open to question and should encourage comments from their fronline workers, even if this results in some form of criticism of the current practices and demands from senior management.
When people are working under excessive stress their ability to maintain a balanced out look could be diminished and if their confidence to report to their managers is not good, this can and will lead errors which will most likely have devestating results.
There as to be excellent team working and good and effective communications have to be both upwards and downwards, not only the latter.
None of this excusses the disasterous outcomes when they do occur, but could, if there was trust all round, minimise there occurrence.
Local Government, especially Social Services needs to be open, honest and certainly transparent.
A serious case review into the murder of 17-year-old Jayden Parkinson also highlights how lack of care placements for adolescents undermined support plans
It’s time local authorities recognised that cutting management posts may save money but it won’t keep services safe, says Blair McPherson
How can things go so wrong so quickly? How can a local authority’s services be rated ‘good’ with some outstanding features, but then within the space of three years be considered so ‘inadequate’, that the local authority is named and shamed?
This was seen with Lancashire Council’s children’s services last month following its most recent Ofsted inspection.
There could be a number of reasons behind such a turnaround: perhaps senior managers were distracted; it could be the accumulated effect of year-on-year budget cuts; or low staff morale resulting in high turnover; or it could be because of a large number of vacancies and an over reliance on agency staff. In fact, it’s probably a combination of these factors, but one universal cost-cutting measure is still seen in general as having no detrimental effect, the cull of management posts.
Many local authorities have axed one in five, and in some cases one in four, management posts. Adult social care and children’s services have not been exempt from this cull. This cost-cutting, ‘efficiency’ measure is popular with councillors. Politicians think the public sector is overstaffed with managers compared to the private sector.
Unlike when a children’s centre is closed, home care support is removed from older people, or a voluntary group’s funds are cut, no one is going to start a “save our managers” campaign.
Even social workers are generally not that bothered if a few overpaid managers lose their jobs. And within a short space of time up to 25% of managers go. These are managers from every tier, senior, middle and frontline.
To minimise the number of compulsory redundancies the HR department proposes that all managers in their late 50s and early 60s are encouraged to take early retirement. The state of local authority finance, the uncertain future and the belief that this is a one-off offer unlikely to be repeated results in a big take up. “Great,” says the HR department, “no need for the unpleasantness of compulsory redundancies.”
“Great,” say the council leader and cabinet colleagues, “a popular cut, a more efficient business and the cost of early retirements doesn’t show up on the day-to-day budget.”
The only problem is that the organisation has suddenly and dramatically lost a massive amount of knowledge and experience.
When it comes to child protection, mental health or dementia, or any services for vulnerable adults and children, you want senior managers who know the right questions to ask; middle managers who have the experience and insight to assess which cuts are deliverable and how much work can be given to unqualified staff without unacceptable risks; and you need frontline managers with the time and experience to support and advise social workers dealing with complex cases.
If you make a senior manager responsible for services that they have no professional background in and no experience of, then you make them over reliant on middle managers. If you let your experienced managers go, have fewer managers but give them a broader ranges of responsibility, give internal promotions to those who are ambitious but relatively inexperienced and are being rewarded for being finance driven rather than practice led, is it any surprise that social workers think their managers are increasingly distant and out of touch?
So, when I read the story about Lancashire Council’s children’s services, it led me to wonder whether the council’s previous enthusiasm for cutting management posts was a contributing factor.
Blair McPherson is a former social worker and director of social services. He is now an author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk ……………..’