Ticking Boxes and Filling in Forms Is Just No Way to Be a Social Worker; (1) Tragedy: Victoria Climbie Died in 2000 (2) Management Problem: Anne Bristow, the Former Head of Social Services in Haringey, and the Offices Where Social Workers Are Said to Have Spent Too Much Time on Paper Work (3) Ex Haringey Hand: I Take No Pleasure in Saying I Told You So, Says Pauline Bradley, Whose Career as a Social Worker Has Taken Her to Scotland

The Evening Standard (London, England), November 13, 2008 | Go to article overview

Ticking Boxes and Filling in Forms Is Just No Way to Be a Social Worker; (1) Tragedy: Victoria Climbie Died in 2000 (2) Management Problem: Anne Bristow, the Former Head of Social Services in Haringey, and the Offices Where Social Workers Are Said to Have Spent Too Much Time on Paper Work (3) Ex Haringey Hand: I Take No Pleasure in Saying I Told You So, Says Pauline Bradley, Whose Career as a Social Worker Has Taken Her to Scotland


Byline: DAVID COHEN

WHEN Pauline Bradley, a former Haringey social worker, heard about the horrific case of Baby P, she buried her head in her hands and felt "a profound sense of shock but not a bit of surprise". "I take no pleasure in saying 'I told you so' but I was expecting another tragedy like Victoria Climbie," says Bradley, 46, who resigned in 2006 after 13 years in the job because she was "disgusted, dismayed and exhausted" at trying to tackle problems that are "endemic" and "not just in Haringey but countrywide".

In many ways, she says, social services departments have gone backwards since Lord Laming's Climbie inquiry led to recommendations that were meant to help prevent catastrophic mistakes by social services. Bradley spoke out as Children's Secretary Ed Balls sent an emergency team of inspectors into Haringey council to determine who should be held responsible.

But Bradley, echoing influential voices within the social work profession, says the Government itself should also bear some of the blame for imposing a bureaucratic system that keeps social workers in their offices attending to form-filling and financial constraints that fail to recognise the enormous difficulties faced by inner-city boroughs such as Haringey.

Members of the public will wonder how a 17-month-old baby could sustain 50 injuries including azt broken back, eight fractured ribs and severe cuts and bruising in eight months and be visited 60 times by social services and still not be taken into care, she says.

"The problem is that after Victoria Climbie's death in 2000, a new group of managers came into Haringey council and, desperate to cover their backs, tried to turn social work into a business model," she says.

"The focus was relentlessly on filling forms, ticking boxes, attending the requisite meetings, and if you did all that, the theory was that everything would be fine. Management became obsessed with procedures, as if social work is an exact science, and experienced social workers like myself who tried to exercise independent judgment were slapped down."

The culture became so oppressive, says Bradley, that it led to rows between the then social services heads, Anne Bristow and David Derbyshire both have since left and front-line social workers, many of whom Bradley would later represent as their union representative.

"In a reflex response to Climbie, social workers were being forced by management to take children into care in situations they sometimes felt did not warrant it.." As the number of Haringey social workers fell to alarming levels due to poor morale and low pay (at one point it had 47 per cent vacancies), Haringey responded by hiking salaries by [pounds sterling]8,000 to [pounds sterling]32,000.

"Overnight it went from the second worst payers in London to one of the best and had the pick of the crop," says Bradley. "It was particularly keen to recruit newly-qualified social workers straight from university who would follow the new procedures without question. Staff who challenged managers were written off as troublemakers. It was no way to run a social services department."

Although Bradley had only brief dealings with the current head of children's services, Sharon Shoesmith, who joined in 2005, she believes that the system created an environment in which trained professionals were not encouraged to develop the "art" of social work and as a consequence could be "too easily duped" by Baby P's 27- year-old mother.

In Baby P's case, the allocated social worker, Maria Ward, 39, and her manager, Gillie Christou, 50, had sent the baby back to his mother and her boyfriend on numerous occasions, even when explanations for his multiple injuries seemed implausible. "They failed to exercise the one thing they were trained to do: see through the parent's deceit," says Bradley.

"There is no doubt," agrees Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, "that fundamental errors of judgment were made by the social work team and that Baby P's death was preventable. …

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Ticking Boxes and Filling in Forms Is Just No Way to Be a Social Worker; (1) Tragedy: Victoria Climbie Died in 2000 (2) Management Problem: Anne Bristow, the Former Head of Social Services in Haringey, and the Offices Where Social Workers Are Said to Have Spent Too Much Time on Paper Work (3) Ex Haringey Hand: I Take No Pleasure in Saying I Told You So, Says Pauline Bradley, Whose Career as a Social Worker Has Taken Her to Scotland
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