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SASW: Dawn McKenzie FAI – system “chronic under-resourcing cannot be ignored”

As a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the death of foster carer Dawn McKenzie finds “no evidence to support the proposition that there was a defect in any system of work”, SASW Manager Trisha Hall has said “chronic under-resourcing” in the system cannot be ignored.

Mrs McKenzie was killed in killed in her home in Hamilton in June 2011 by a 13-year-old boy who had been placed with her by Foster Care Associates Scotland.  In his ruling, Sheriff Bicket said Mrs McKenzie's death was “not foreseeable” but may have been avoided had Foster Care Associates Scotland taken proper account of her inexperience.

Sheriff Bicket described Mrs McKenzie’s death as “tragic” and recommended training for all foster carers in intervention and crisis prevention. Glasgow City Council stated it will take time to give Sheriff Bicket’s findings the consideration they deserve, before commenting in detail.

Commenting on the FAI findings, SASW Manager Trisha Hall said: “This is, thankfully, a most unusual though very tragic case, and just as at the various stages of the process from the actual occurrence, the court case, Significant Case Review and Fatal Accident Inquiry, our first reaction is one of profound sadness for Mrs McKenzie and her husband. Our sincere condolences go to the family.

“There are many areas that we as a social work profession, but certainly also as a society must reflect on. The chronic under-resourcing of local authority social work departments and insufficient opportunities for continuous training, consistent supervision and reflection on practice are features which simply can’t be ignored.

“This is a political matter. Central government no longer has budgets to facilitate training on a national scale, and advise it is the local authority responsibility to train and support staff, yet the cuts to these local authorities have meant training budgets and, therefore, opportunities are limited to the most essential sharing of information. This is frequently on new policies and legislation, not on the experiences and learning of workers.

“There are great initiatives which happen from time to time, such as the Edinburgh University sessions with social workers and academic staff on reflective practice, where research and practice interacted in discussions about interventions and support. We must allocate resources to allow such partnerships between our academic institutions and practitioners working within the very complex areas of child protection and support to become viable initiatives that are sustained over time, and become the norm, not the exception.

“We also need to have an informed debate about ‘permanence’ in a child’s life when we are making recommendations to the decision making bodies. There are no definitive solutions, as every child and their family circumstances are unique, but there are real issues about what influences assessment and decision making. What do we mean by ‘contact’ with birth families, how can we ensure the child’s interest take priority over that of the adults? The very challenging circumstances in which this foster placement evolved bear witness to such complexities. It is a bitter irony that this FAI ruling comes in the same period as the news BAAF Scotland, the agency which has provided invaluable training, assistance and support, has been forced to close its doors.

“We should never forget that these foster carers truly cared and must be commended for the work they did and for the time they provided some stability in this very troubled young person’s life. The social workers and other professionals involved also invested their energy and emotions, and the impact on them will be significant.

“We must, however, ensure that the message remains clear: if we don’t invest in essential services for the most vulnerable in our society we will not be able to make the differences we need to make with and for people. We will continue to have to spend a large amount of public money to conduct Significant Case Reviews and associated FAIs, and it is absolutely right that we do, both because of the respect owed to the people involved, and because we must reflect, identify and learn the lessons. We should also have that public money invested in order to apply the learning and prevent further incidents such as this extremely tragic occurrence”.