Today’s Daily Mail (28 October) claims that Cumbria Councy Council tried to keep the death of baby Poppi Worthington a secret in order to protect its social workers. According to the Daily Mail the judge has stated the secrecy is to protect the identity of Poppi’s siblings and to prevent future criminal proceedings being prejudiced. Needless to say the Daily Mail doesn’t accept this view.
This news report coincides with the BBC documentary “Baby P: The Untold Story” broadcast last night (27 October). And it’s significant.
No doubt Peter’s death was harrowing and preventable. A Serious Case Review, longer and more in-depth than usual, largely agreed that Peter’s death was a coming together of independent errors that alone would not have led to his death but in combination were fatal. Several agencies and professionals were involved.
If Cumbria want to keep Poppi’s case a secret in order to protect their staff it may be because of the role of the media in what followed the public announcement of the outcome of the trial of Peter’s parents. The tone of the media reporting, and the public and political response, led Peter’s name to be shamefully abused in his death as he became a media and political football, with demands that ‘heads should roll’. It became a witch hunt, the chasers baying for blood, social workers in their sights while other agencies scattered to lick their wounds. The findings of the Serious Case Review were dismissed as a cover-up.
But there was one thing that struck me in particular from the documentary – the situation in Haringey’s health services. So difficult was recruitment of qualified medical staff into children’s services in Haringey it had to be done under cover of Great Ormond Street Hospital. And the reason for that was because of the fallout of an even earlier high profile child death, Victoria Climbie, which also led to vast swathes of negative media coverage.
THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DEMAND BLOOD.
People who should be working in what are undoubtedly difficult and high pressured jobs at the very edge of making important, life and death decisions, about the welfare of vulnerable children, don’t want to work there. And those who stay, or join, find themselves in an excessively pressured atmosphere trying to keep the wolves at bay. It is not an atmosphere that is the most conducive to saving the lives of other vulnerable children.
So, Daily Mail, before you start your campaign calling for heads to roll, for social workers to be punished and sacked, think about what you are doing not just to the rest of the social workers who are trying to do a good job, but also to the other professions, the police, health and education services, who work alongside social workers in trying to do their jobs to protect the most vulnerable members of our society and prevent further tragedies.