Socialist Worker

Letters

Issue No. 2129

Haringey social services: a view from the inside

I worked in the Child Development Centre in Haringey. I left before Baby P was seen by the service (»  Media witch-hunt puts more children at risk, 22 November), but would like to share my thoughts.

In my opinion, the place was being run down – where I worked, the chair and window were broken and the room rarely cleaned.

I felt I was barely trained. I was told by a paediatrician that no working weighing scales were available even though these are essential tools for checking children’s well‑being.

The same paediatrician’s pay was delayed.

Secretaries were paid little but had massive workloads to deal with – often because no secretary had been previously working in the post. They had an enormous amount of responsibility.

Some management seemed to spend more time in surveillance of these workers than in doing something about the state of the place.

This made it almost impossible to work effectively.

There was incredible pressure on “targets” – making sure appointments happened when they were scheduled. I heard one manager say that “anyone” should see a child rather than miss a target. An entire meeting was devoted to this topic.

Social workers, physiotherapists and health visitors seemed to be battling to stay confident and effective under enormous caseloads. I believe cost-cutting was to blame for this.

Despite the warmth and support of my fellow workers, it became a hellish place to work.

I could see the rapid deterioration of a crucial centre for the well-being of children. Management seemed more focused on saving money and meeting targets – which is all wrong for such a vital centre.

In my view, this was no place for the effective support of children, or for their parents, carers and families.

Next time I watch the unveiling of a new hospital built with private funding elsewhere in the country, I will think of the Child Development Centre and how its values were sacrificed to the gods of privatisation.

Emma Hall, North London


We won’t accept scapegoating

The tragic death of Baby P in Haringey has had some very predictable consequences.

The Sun recently launched a petition calling on all the social workers involved in the case to be sacked, alongside photographs of the workers. Meanwhile Tory leader David Cameron tried to link the tragedy to his “broken society” argument.

More than 200,000 people signed the Sun petition. The newspaper’s demand that social workers be much tougher with parents, and take kids into care much earlier, has been repeated both by contributors to Radio 4’s Moral Maze and also by David Aaronovitch in the Times newspaper.

Yet in two important ways the response in this case has been different from that in earlier cases, such as the death of Victoria Climbie eight years ago.

First of all, despite the Sun’s best efforts, it is proving more difficult for the media to scapegoat those involved in the way they have done in previous cases.

This is partly because the child had been visited on 60 occasions by different professionals and that there had been a high level of communication between the professionals involved.

Also, many people now recognise that the managerial approaches so beloved of New Labour – such as increasingly bureaucratic procedures in social care – simply don’t work.

One of the main issues that has arisen from the Baby P case is the fact that social workers are now forced to spend much more time in front of computers filling in forms rather than working with the people who need their help.

The second thing that is different this time round is that social workers and social care staff generally are much less prepared to accept this kind of scapegoating – more than 1,000 people, have signed an online petition launched by the Social Work Action Network (Swan) last week.

Emails are flooding in to the Swan website telling of meetings being organised to discuss the Baby P case and how we can both protect children and resist the scapegoating.

In addition, Swan is now discussing a one-day conference early next year to explore much more effective ways of protecting children, based on combating managerialism, and child and family poverty.

These are the kind of responses that can give children a real chance of avoiding harm, not more procedures and greater “scepticism”.

Iain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette, Social Work Action Network


End this war, Brown

This year’s remembrance day services focused on the 90th anniversary of the cessation of the war to end all wars.

But we continue to enter conflicts with no good reason. Yet we repeat the same mistakes and citizens back in “Blighty” have no clear idea of what we are doing there.

Simon Armitage, the Huddersfield poet, sums up the feelings of modern day soldiers succinctly in the film Not Dead. Returning servicemen from Basra and Bosnia recite their poetry, describing vividly their experiences – mostly negative.

The one thing that stands out is the lack of support those physically and mentally scarred receive.

Over 2,000 service personnel who have returned from active duty since 2003 suffer from some kind of mental illness.

Unlike their predecessors in the Second World War they do not share a common bond with all their peers. They return to civilian life surrounded by others who haven’t the faintest idea of what they have been through.

Let’s hope this present generation never forget what has gone before, that they understand the effects of war and do everything in their power to unite the future world in peace.

Bob Miller, Essex


Gordon Brown is under pressure from the US to commit more troops to Afghanistan.

Recently we’ve seen the slaughter of a further three British soldiers in this “noble cause”.

But before Brown sends more young men to their deaths perhaps he ought to heed the words of Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the departing commander of British forces in Afghanistan, who said, “We’re not going to win this war.”

Or he should take notice of a recent BBC opinion poll showing that 68 percent of the population wants British troops out of Afghanistan.

Exactly how noble is the wanton butchery by US fighter bombers?

Mark Holt, Merseyside Stop the War Coalition


Police out of college

I arrived at my college in Tower Hamlets on Thursday of last week to find around 20 police officers and two metal detectors at the gate.

They were stopping everyone on the way in and searching their bags. Many black and Asian boys were crowding outside – they were really angry about being made to wait and being searched. This was making people late for class.

I thought this was completely out of order. People were made late for their classes so missed out on their Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) which isn’t paid if you’re late. And it made people feel threatened.

As far as I know no weapons were found.

Leila Assaf, East London


We don’t need privatisation

The failure of a private contractor Liberata to pay the Education Maintenance Allowance to thousands of further education students is an absolute disgrace.

This firm was paid millions of pounds of public money to ensure that some of the poorest people in society got the bare minimum they need to go to college.

Because of its failure, many of those students have had to drop out of their courses and had their futures blighted.

But perhaps the biggest scandal is the way that this Labour government continues to hand over our cash and responsibilities to these private sector vultures.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families is now preparing to hand the contract to a new private provider – this government cannot admit that free market solutions don’t deliver for ordinary people.

Rohan Nakkady, Rotherham


You can’t eat a credit crunch

People are increasingly worried about how much money they spend on everything in life – including food.

Cheaper food is notoriously worse for our health and experts are worried about the impact this will have on obesity figures.

But until fruit and vegetables and other such healthy foods become lower in price they will be out of reach for many people who have never been able to buy and eat the foods they know are good for them and their families.

Emily Johnstone, Perth, Scotland


This won’t benefit us

The draconian nature of New Labour’s assault on lone parents, disabled people and the long-term jobless is even causing dissent at the heart of government.

New Labour wants to force these people into work under its new proposals. These include single parents with children over 12, who will now no longer be able to claim income support and can only claim Jobseekers Allowance if they are actively looking for work.

But as the job cuts mount in the deepening recession even senior civil servants can see the madness of the policy.

Sir Richard Tilt, the head of the Social Security Advisory Committee, said last week that changes to the benefits system should be delayed because they may “push people into poverty”.

Charities have supported Tilt’s call. But it doesn’t go far enough.

The measures should be abandoned, as should all of Labour’s scapegoating of unemployed people for the failures of the system.

Katherine Branney, East London


Judges are like bosses

Most of us will be amazed at the news space given to John Sergeant’s exit from Strictly Come Dancing last week, because it seems so trivial compared to the important stuff like the recession, or events in the Congo.

But this would be to miss the point of this story.

Mass TV production is now based on these cheap, prime-time shows that install experts or judges with views on everything.

Judges are treated as saints, and this is a strong metaphor for the managerial dominance of the modern workplace, where we are sick to death of being performance-managed.

So I think the viewers’ refusal to vote Sergeant off this show, in direct defiance of the show’s “experts”, is a brilliant bit of bolshy-ness. People are sick of being told what to do and have expressed it by celebrating Sergeant’s “give-it-a-go” approach. He is disarmingly humble and “normal”.

Nick Grant, West London


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Letters
Tue 25 Nov 2008, 18:29 GMT
Issue No. 2129
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