Who protects the protectors? Social workers still ravaged by Baby P media storm

Dr Ray Jones

Guest blogger Ray Jones’ book, ‘The Story of Baby P – Setting the record straight‘ publishes today.  

Ray shares his thoughts on the impact that the media coverage of the ‘Baby P’ case had, and continues to have, on social workers.

 

The ‘early’ release of Jason Owen, convicted for being involved in the death of ‘Baby P’ in 2007, gave the tabloid newspapers a fresh moment of outrage this weekend.

When a little boy dies following horrific abuse from the adults in his household, disbelief and outrage are indeed quite natural human responses. ‘Baby P’, Peter Connelly, was just 17 months old when he died. In November 2009 his mother, her boyfriend, and Jason Owen, the boyfriend’s brother, were each convicted of ‘causing or allowing’ his death.

However the ramifications of the media storm that erupted following these convictions are still being felt in social work circles today.

‘Campaign for justice’

In November 2009 the Sun newspaper and its then editor, Rebekah Brooks, launched a ‘campaign for justice’. The campaign was not about improving and better resourcing child protection services. It was not about tougher sentences for those who abuse children. Instead, it demanded the summary sackings of social workers and their managers, and also of a paediatrician. Police officers who unsuccessfully undertook two prior criminal investigations into Peter’s previous injuries were, however, largely left out of how the story was told, as were the NHS managers who oversaw a paediatric service which was itself in trouble.

The Leveson Inquiry and the recent phone hacking trial have since revealed the powerful networks of relationships between the press, politicians and the police. These powerful relationships, and relationships of power, explicitly and implicitly came into play in how the ‘Baby P’ story was shaped and told.

One person in particular, the Director of Children’s Services in Haringey, became central to the Sun’s vilification and vengeance. Sharon Shoesmith, with the Connelly family’s social workers and their managers, was denigrated and demonised and threatened and traumatised.

The impact of the media’s targeting of those who worked to protect children was, however, much wider than its impact on individuals. In Haringey, and elsewhere, it became difficult to recruit and retain social workers and health visitors to work with children and families and it was difficult to get doctors to work in community paediatric services. So, fewer workers and a less stable workforce.

This created a child protection system which was, and still is, under tremendous pressure

There was also a dramatic surge in the number of child protection concerns passed to those still working at the sharp-end of child protection services. This created a child protection system which was, and still is, under tremendous pressure.

Since the death of ‘Baby P’ and the conviction of his killers, both the former Labour Government and the current Coalition Government have instigated reviews such as the Social Work Task Force and the Munro Review.  Neither has led to major new legislation. Neither promoted more procedures and regulations to standardise practice.

Away from the media spotlight, these reviews were able to give balanced recommendations that called for more professional space and greater recognition for the job of social workers. However, it is now the Government’s intention that child protection be opened up to the market place, and to companies like G4S and Serco, with more fragmentation and instability.

Who knows what impact yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle will have on the outcome of these government intentions.  Who knows when there will be the next media frenzy allocating blame and shame when a child is abused and killed, with vilification and vengeance focused on social workers.

Given the failure so far of the political response to the Leveson Inquiry recommendations to implement a robust system of checks and balances on the media pack, it remains to be seen whether politicians will find within themselves the necessary commitment and courage in the future to confront the media in their heady enthusiasm to identify and oust the latest social worker targeted in a ‘witch hunt’.

Bookshop display Baby PDr Ray Jones is a registered social worker and professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London. From 1992-2006 he was director of social services in Wiltshire. He currently oversees child protection in several areas of England previously rated by Ofsted as ‘inadequate’. His book. ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, has just been published by Policy Press and can be purchased at a discounted rate from our website.

2 Responses to “Who protects the protectors? Social workers still ravaged by Baby P media storm”


  1. 1 Dr Steve Rogowski July 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    As is always the case with Ray Jones, we have an incisive analysis of
    the salient issues arising from the Baby P tragedy.


  1. 1 7 questions to ask when watching tonight’s ‘Baby P’ documentary | The Policy Press Blog Trackback on October 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

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