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.
If you’re going to complain about the family justice system, get your facts right - It’s a seemingly innocuous sub-section of the Children Act, and one that you could easily overlook. I am referring to section 2(4) which states: “The rule ...
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