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Ten years on from Baby P: “We need to reduce case loads and computer bureaucracy”

August 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of 17-month old Peter Connolly’s death, and to reflect on this tragedy BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen and Scottish Association of Social Work Manager Trisha Hall spoke on radio last Friday about lessons that still need to be learned.

The tragic Baby P case saw social services put in the cross hairs of government and media, and yet 10 years on vulnerable children are still at risk, warns Allen, pointing to the fact that social workers are struggling under a ‘bombardment’ of cases

Allen argues the government-led seven years of austerity and an over-emphasis on red-tape and bureaucracy is chaining social workers to their desks and therefore putting more children at risk.

Speaking in a LBC radio feature about Baby P, Allen said: “The fact that social workers, and to some extent other professionals as well are stuck behind computers, more than they are able to spend time with families… really needs to be addressed.

“Reducing case loads and reducing computer bureaucracy and paperwork - we’ve said it many times but it remains a big issue in local authorities.

“If you can’t have conversations that reveal the risks and the potential strengths that might be in that family you won’t be able to protect children.”

It is a point that Hall emphasised too, in an interview that was broadcast on Heart FM, Capital FM and Smooth Radio.

“There is still an issue of too much time spent on paperwork,” said Hall. “Qualified social workers need time for reflective practice, to see what is really going on with children and parents.”

“You cannot do this without real engagement with families – 15-minute visits aren’t enough – there needs to be more time for real observation, analysis and reflection.”

This message was reiterated by social worker and BASW member Melaine Adegbite in a BBC London evening news piece last week about the death of 13-month old Noah Serra-Morrison.


Blame culture


Peter Connolly was seen 60 times by council and medical professionals in the months before he was killed by his mum's partner.

Several of them, including two social workers, the head of children’s services and a GP lost their jobs.

However, Dr Allen described their sackings as closer to a “witch hunt”, telling LBC it’s had a real impact on social workers being confident enough to do their jobs.

She continued: “I think it's continued to play a part for some social workers feeling like they are at risk of blame.

“Sometimes it leads to behaviour such as the front line social worker not really being confident enough in their own judgement, but seeking or having imposed on them, management decisions.”

Allen added: “The dynamic that was setup by the ‘blame culture’ is that confident professionals aren’t able to do their very best if they are constantly looking over their shoulder.”

In Scotland, Hall suggests that under-pressure social workers are now so concerned about being blamed for something missed that they are potentially producing too many referrals.

She added: “Services have become so concerned about possibly being liable for something that hasn’t been noticed that there are now too many referrals for a duty system to cope with.”   

An in-depth feature analysis covering the legacy of the Baby P case is published in July-August’s edition of PSW and is available here