Former Director of Social Services, academic and Policy Press author Professor Ray Jones expresses his hopes that tonight’s BBC documentary Baby P: The untold story will give an accurate account of events leading up to and surrounding the death of Baby P. His ‘7 questions to ask when watching tonights ‘Baby P’ documentary’ offers a unique measurement system by which we can judge the material presented.
Tonight the BBC are broadcasting a documentary about how the terrible death of 17 month old Peter Connelly was turned by the media into a story about a little child who became known as ‘Baby P’. Social workers and their managers were blamed and vilified for his death, with Rebekah Brooks and The Sun at the forefront of the vicious and personalised attacks on the social workers.
From September 2012 I provided briefings and information over 18 months to the makers of the BBC film, including the first full draft of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, which was published in July.
I have not seen the film, and do not know what editorial approach has been taken by the film makers. But here are my hopes, and some measures against which the film might be judged.
1. Is it recognised in the film that Peter Connelly was a neglected child but that he and the Connelly family were not neglected by social workers? Given what the social workers knew at the time they worked diligently to improve his care and monitor his well-being. It does seem that neglect turned to vicious abuse only in the days immediately before Peter died, but this would never been known from how the story had been told to date.
2. Does the film record that when the social workers sought legal advice about whether the grounds for care proceedings were met there were significant issues about the competence and experience of the legal advisor and the advice that the grounds were not met, and in the management of Haringey Council’s legal services?
3. Will the film report the considerable concerns about the police involvement with Peter and his family before Peter died, and how the police worked with and briefed the media, including the BBC, so that the focus was turned away from the police and centred instead on the social workers?
4: Will the concerns about Great Ormond Street Hospital’s senior managers in ensuring a safe and secure community paediatric service in Haringey be given attention?
5. Will the part played by Ofsted and by the second government-required serious case review be reviewed as both legitimised and reinforced the media’s blame of social workers for Peter’s death?
6. Will the behaviour of Mr Cameron, Mr Balls and other politicians receive comment as they tucked in behind the media’s vilification of social workers and combined to deliver the sackings of social workers and their managers, with a Director of Children’s Services, Sharon Shoesmith, later found by the High Court to have been scapegoated following The Sun’s so-called ‘Campaign for Justice’?
7. Will the film note the terrible impact on the child protection system in England, and therefore on the safety and welfare of children, which quickly became over-loaded following the media’s shaping of the ‘Baby P’ story, and with child protection services at breaking point? The Coalition Government, with no opposition from Labour, is now arguing for and allowing the marketisation and privatisation of child protection investigations and assessments.
There are high hopes that tonight’s documentary will play a major part in correcting what has been told about the awful death of Peter Connelly, about the part played by those who worked to protect children, and how the ‘Baby P’ story came to be mis-shaped to target social workers.
If the film addresses all or most of the points above it will be a considerable credit to the programme makers and a major contribution to correcting a story which has to date largely left the public misinformed.
Professor Ray Jones is the author of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’, and Professor of Social Work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London. A registered social worker, for 14 years he was a Director of Social Services. He has been chair of the British Association of Social Workers and chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence. A frequent media commentator, he oversees child protection in several areas and has written several books and numerous papers on social work and social policy.
Other blogs by the same author:
Seven years on, why is the Baby P case still making headlines? The Guardian article by Harry Ferguson
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