About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Sharon Shoesmith: the interview

The full interview with Sharon Shoesmith was on Weekend Womans Hour and if you missed it you can listen again through BBC iplayer by clicking on the link.

It seems to be being generally written up as her being entirely unrepentant. She makes the point in the interview that she did want to convey how sorry and distressed she and the department were about the death of Baby P but, although she said so at the press conference, this was not reported. Unfortunately she still does not actually say, 'we were sorry' in the interview itself but keeps talking about everyone being distressed. It's a small difference perhaps but it rather sums up the whole interview. If you listen to it from a perspective of knowledge about care cases you will understand the defences she is running but I am not sure it will communicate well to those without such knowledge.

For example, she was asked how it was that the social workers etc did not pick up that an injury was acquired as a result of a beating and was mistaken for a normal toddler type bruising. If it was as simple as that I would be out of a job straight away. She explained that it was a matter for the doctors examining the child to make that sort of decision. Unfortunately I think her answer may come across as her passing the buck to the doctors. She kept referring to social workers being 'concerned' but not being clear what the concerns were. I am sure she is not helped by having to be careful about the details she reveals about the case but it might have been clearer if she had spelled out that you cannot necessarily tell from looking at a bruise on a leg, say, that it was caused by the child being hit as opposed to bumping into a table. She did reveal something I had not picked up from previous reports - the family dug a trench in the garden in which an adult could hide when the professionals were visiting.

She drew an analogy with stabbing cases - we would not expect every head of a police force to resign because they failed to prevent young people in their area from stabbing even though they knew of the problem for a long time. The difficulty with the analogy is that we might indeed expect them or someone to resign if they let the young person they arrested and had found in possession of a knife and making threats etc back onto the streets and then there was a stabbing. In other words if they had knowledge of a specific risk and did not take steps to avoid it. The better point she makes is that 50 children a week are killed within the family and not every other Children Services' Director has to fall on their sword every time (this would mean replacing 1/3 of them every year).

On the whole I came away feeling ambivalent. She has undoubtedly been scapegoated and hounded by the press (what possible justification can there have been for the doorstepping of her 89 year old mother?). She gave me much food for thought about the role of a Director of Children's Services chairing a Serious Case Review (70% of SCRs she says are chaired by the Director and 7/32 in London). She also makes a very good point that the impact of the press reaction on social workers has been disastrous and many good points about the lack of acknowledgement of any positive aspects of social services delivery in Haringey. But I could not avoid having a rather personal reaction to what appears to be an impersonal tone and a lack of plain speaking. She also displayed some rather muddled thinking as to the justification for issuing care proceedings (by suggesting that there were not grounds if the police did not feel able to pursue a prosecution, for example).

I did find the interview very interesting and do want to know more and think more about where it all leads.


Anonymous said...

from HH
teacher having worked with pupils at risk
I did not hear Sharon Shoesmith being 'entirely unrepentant' at all.
I felt she was entitled, with some finesse, to distance her 'self' from the issue
In the fulness of time it will inevitably become apparent [the next case] that children continue to be at risk of harm, and are harmed, despite imperfect human systems' best efforts to protect them. What a foolish empty pledge: 'there need never be another Baby P' [can't attribute it]
It wuld be difficult to listen to, and later read, the interview and sustain the view that she doesn't express regret, both in the carefully chosen words she uses and in the work against the odds to which she seems admirably committed despite unprecedented character assassination

Wooddy said...

Why should S Shoesmith apologise? Her responsibility was to set up procedures,select & support staff. She cannot know all that is going on in the Department. The Social Workers & others are professionals & take responsibilty for their own actiions & decisions. In this case, as it turned out, they were wrong but obviously had considered all the factors conscientiously.
We in UK have become stupid in punishing the One at the Top whether personally guilty or not.

Nereus said...

Ms Shoesmith is her own worst PR. Her handling of the initial BBC interview that I heard left me wondering how she could ever have been considered for this job. She came across as an icy apparatchik, and defiant - the implication seemed to be "inevitably we win some, we lose some" - which is of course the truth. And she seemed not to recognise the force of the saying "The Buck Stops Here". However, the question I have for this forum is how can she be deprived of her pension? What exactly has she done that can have that result? Is that a local decision or something handed down by the Ministry? Does it affect all her working life as a civil servant, or just the period in her latest job? I hope some experts will explain this to me.