News Date: Tuesday 13th January 2009
Tim's Response to NSPCC Proposals Following Baby P's Death
Tim has received many letters from constituents concerning the NSPCC's proposals in the wake of the Baby P tragedy in Haringey. Below is the text of his response.
'The whole nation has been shocked by the violence inflicted on this defenceless child and I strongly share your concern about the need for an urgent re-assessment of the way that child protection systems appear to have failed this child and indeed too many other children.
'In response to the specific points outlined in the campaign, I strongly support the need for the voices of children to be heard loud and clear by those involved in child protection. It is deeply worrying that this fundamental consideration was given scant regard in Haringey. Ascertaining the 'wishes and feelings' of children has become a cornerstone of children's legislation in recent years but has clearly not been put into practice here.
'I believe that serious recommendations will be forthcoming from the urgent review that Lord Laming is currently undertaking. Better joint working between all agencies involved in safeguarding children must be a major part of that. As a first step, if we are comprehensively to learn the lessons of Baby P's death in a way that clearly did not happen from the death of Victoria Climbie seven years earlier in Haringey, then we believe that the Serious Case Review undertaken by Haringey should be published for all to hear the full seriousness of the shortcomings in the system that failed him. We will continue to put pressure on the Government to reverse its decision not to publish this report.
'Whilst the Government has established a social worker degree qualification, this cannot be a replacement for hands on experience. We have been calling for much better training on the job under supervision and again this needs to take place in front of actual children rather than in front of computer screens. Given the importance of continuity in dealing with vulnerable families, it is a completely false economy not to make sure that we have fully and appropriately staffed children's services departments in local authorities.
'On the fourth point, we have raised concerns about the apparent lack of coordination in Haringey between social worker managers and their legal department where clearly appropriate advice about taking Baby P into care was not forthcoming. Decisions about whether a child should be removed from his or her family are never straightforward and we certainly do not want to see a surge in children going into care simply as a knee-jerk reaction to events in Haringey. However, right decisions are more likely to be made by social workers freed up to spend time with vulnerable families rather than shackled to their desks.
'Fifthly, we have liaised closely with our Conservative council colleagues running the majority of local authorities up and down the country directly delivering children's services. Conservative controlled authorities, as a matter of urgency, already have, or are in the process of, ensuring that the important Local Safeguarding Children's Boards will be chaired by an independent chairman, and not a Director of Children's services, as in the case of Haringey. We have also been asking serious questions about the way the inspection system works as clearly there can be no confidence in a system which can award Haringey three star status one year and then, in the light of Baby P, a year later report that the department was not up to it. Again, the quality of inspection needs to be seriously reviewed.
'Finally, I see that the NSPCC have incorporated their campaign to ban smacking into the issue of Baby P. When we last had the opportunity of a vote in the House of Commons, the Conservative Party quite rightly allowed a free vote on the subject of smacking by parents. I think it highly inappropriate and unhelpful however that the NSPCC have tried to equate the issue of smacking and Baby P. Those responsible for the death of Baby P were abusive and violent adults against whom the full rigour of the law should be brought. Their crimes are a world apart from the actions of a loving parent who, as a last resort, may use reasonable chastisement against his or her own child. I personally fear that it is insulting to the vast majority of decent parents in this country who are doing a good job to bring up children often in difficult circumstances to equate their behaviour with the carers of Baby P and will therefore not be pursuing this part of the NSPCC campaign.
'That said I am sure you will appreciate the support that my Party and I have been giving to the other necessary measures that need to be taken to ensure that further cases such as Baby P will be few and far between.'