Social workers deserve the same level of professional support as nurses and doctors

READERS who have followed the events of the “Baby Peter” case will almost certainly be aware that Haringey Council has now dismissed four managers, including the director of children’s services, and a social worker.

I wonder, however, how many readers know what has happened to the other professionals involved in the events leading up to his death. I would guess not many.

For a number of years I have been interested in how certain elements of the media and certain politicians respond to deaths where public services are involved – or it is felt they should have been involved.

This interest took a particular focus when I read in the Times that as many as 40,000 deaths in British hospitals are the result of errors by medical staff.

I remember remarking to a friend that I didn’t think this story would generate much interest from the rest of the media, but I wondered what the reaction would have been if the same number of deaths had resulted from errors by local authority social workers.

As far as I am aware, no social worker has ever deliberately or accidentally killed a client while doing their job and very few children have been killed while in care.

Has a senior police officer been removed from office by the Home Secretary as a result of the tragic events at the G20 summit which led to the death of a man?

When 400 people were reported as dying needlessly in a Staffordshire hospital, was a petition organised by a national newspaper for the sacking of the professionals involved?

Have doctors and nurses been targeted as a result of Dr Harold Shipman killing at least 218 people in his role as a GP or nurses Colin Norris and Beverly Allitt killing people in their care?

I wonder what the reaction would have been if local government, rather than the Welsh NHS, had publicly acknowledged that 1,000 avoidable deaths and up to 50,000 episodes of harm could be avoided in two years.

I doubt very much that the significant media support attached to the 1,000 Lives campaign would have been as evident.

I am not simply arguing for sympathy. It is not my contention that other professions should be treated in the same way as social workers or that Baby Peter’s death or any other death should be minimised.

Nothing could be further from my mind.

It is absolutely right that when something goes wrong and there is an unacceptable tragedy, those responsible for protecting children, and others, are held to account.

But I would argue that a disproportionate response to these tragedies does nothing to protect people. Indeed the opposite is more likely, with poor morale and staff shortages meaning that fewer social workers are available to do what is necessary.

Most people recognise the difficulties and challenges experienced by all professionals in their daily task of protecting vulnerable people from harm.

At the same time people also find it difficult to accept the level of cruelty one individual can inflict on another, especially when that person is a parent.

It is important that we all understand our personal responsibilities for protecting children and others, and be willing to take the appropriate action.

Most children killed in Britain are not known to social services but they are known to family, friends and other professionals who may have concerns.

A “no blame” culture in the NHS is to be applauded and there has been widespread support for the 1,000 Lives campaign, which is already making significant improvements because it is understood that acknowledging the problem is the first important step in dealing with it.

It is essential that we adopt the same open and supportive attitude toward child and adult protection, because it is the only way to ensure systems are as effective as possible so that when things do go wrong they are dealt with early, quickly and safely.

Jon Skone is the honorary secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru