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Former Haringey director says social care driven by fear

The former director of children’s services at Haringey Council has told MPs that the sector has become “motivated by fear” in the wake of the death of Peter Connelly.

Sharon Shoesmith told the education committee that the toddler’s death in August 2007 had led to a surge in the number of children being taken into care and those on child protection plans had doubled from 30,000 to 60,000.

She said that while some may argue that it was right to take more children away from their parents, removing half of those on plans into care would cost an extra £1.5bn.

“Whatever the answer, in my view, the whole sector is now motivated by a fear of failure and not the conditions for success,” she told the committee.

In her evidence on child safeguarding, she said that it had been “frankly absurd” that the public had been told that “Haringey was uniquely weak” and that everyone from the director to social workers should be sacked after the 17-month-old died. “The honest story will be told eventually,” she said.

She went on to say that social workers had made errors of judgement. “They thought they could keep this little boy in the family. They were wrong. Simple as that.”

But when pressed as to whether she should have resigned, Shoesmith said she could not be responsible for mistakes made in other services such as health and police. “So you are telling me that when Peter was presented on 34 occasions at health settings and when he had his appointment with the consultant and that consultant had not a single record of those presentations, just a letter from a social worker, that I should take responsibility for a complete breakdown of the system in health? I would say no.”

Shoesmith was sacked by former education secretary Ed Balls in December 2008 following the publication of a damning Ofsted report. She then took the government to the High Court claiming she had been unlawfully sacked but lost her legal challenge in April.

In 2007 Haringey had been rated good in an annual performance assessment but the following year it received a rating of inadequate. Shoesmith said the department had a “huge wobble” in that year but she would not have expected it to be rated inadequate.

“Services during that time from Peter’s death took quite a knock. There were huge issues of confidence among social workers. They were deeply distressed. The department went into turmoil before the public knew,” she said.

She went on to say that Ofsted inspectors had not spoken to any of the social workers responsible for case files they looked and that after social care had been “grafted on” to the education model for inspection with the transfer from the Commission for Social Care Inspection much of the development side of inspection had been lost.

She said the inspectors needed to “get out there on the ground with social workers and into the homes and see what’s happening”.