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‘Baby P’ social workers lose appeal: five years on, social workers still afraid to whistleblow

Gillie Christou and Maria Ward , two social workers involved in the case of Baby Peter Connelly, have lost their appeal against an employment tribunal ruling that they were fairly sacked, prompting BASW to express concern at the wider implications of the pair’s experience over the past four years.

Ms Ward, Peter Connelly’s social worker, and her manager, Gillie Christou, were appealing against an employment tribunal verdict in 2010, which found they were fairly sacked by the authority. The tribunal found Haringey acted reasonably in sacking the workers over their involvement in the high-profile tragedy.

Commenting after their appeal was rejected, Hilton Dawson, chief executive, British Association of Social Workers, said: “This is a case that should strike fear into the heart of every social worker.

“Social workers are trained professionals attempting to do their best for children under very stressful circumstances, but when things go wrong their mistakes are magnified and the results more tragic than in most areas of work.

“When social workers make serious mistakes, they should face the appropriate sanctions, but no-one should lose sight of the fact they are working in an extremely pressurised system, expected to predict every harmful situation, while meeting the ever growing demands of a target-led profession.

“Professor Eileen Munro, who is leading the government’s review on child protection procedures, has identified that uncertainty is part of child protection work, saying only this week, “we cannot know for sure what is going on in the privacy of family life, nor can we predict with certainty what will happen”.

“At the time of Peter Connolly’s death, Haringey council’s systems and management were under-resourced, and staff were overburdened and not supported as they should be. Sadly, social workers in Haringey knew that the environment they were working in was inappropriate, but they did not raise the alarm in the way the public would have hoped. The ability of social workers to blow the whistle on bad practice remains stymied by a culture of fear, and where openness and transparency is frowned upon as a risk to the image of a local authority.

“This is still a worry for social workers today, in our recent survey of over 1000 social workers, half said they were afraid to speak out for fear of repercussions. We also know that 4 years on from the Peter Connolly case, social workers are dealing with unacceptable caseloads and huge amounts of paperwork that keeps them away from actually visiting vulnerable children, and their morale is plummeting. 88% of social workers surveyed told us they feel lives could be put at risk as a consequence of the current cuts to social work services.

“Social workers should be supported and applauded for the job they do, not be personally exposed and thrown to the lions when mistakes are inevitably made.”

Peter Connelly died in August 2007 when he was 17 months old. His mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend Steven Barker and their lodger Jason Owens were found guilty in 2009 of causing or allowing his death.