Posts Tagged 'Peter Connelly'

‘Baby P’ 10 years on and the devastation of child protection

The updated and expanded second edition of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ by Ray Jones, was published by Policy Press in February. Here, Jones discusses the impact of the Baby P case 10 years on, especially the ineffectual regulations on abusive press behaviour and the devastating effect on the social work profession.

Ray Jones

“On 3 August 2017 it is the tenth anniversary of the terrible death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London.

Abused within his family home, his death became a focus of national and international media coverage when his mother, her boyfriend and the boyfriend’s brother were each found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

Within the press, Peter was known as ‘Baby P’. One newspaper in particular, The Sun, and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, day-after-day, month-after-month, and year-after-year ran a campaign of harassment and hatred targeted at Peter’s social workers and their managers, and a paediatrician, who sought to help and protect children.

The Sun launched a ‘campaign for justice’ with a front page accusing those it was targeting as having ‘blood on their hands’. This notorious banner headlined front page is no longer to be found on The Sun’s website but is still accessible through other sites.

Much has happened since August 2007. David Cameron, who is now known to have been a close personal friend of Rebekah Brooks, wrote a column in The Sun demanding the sacking of the social workers and managers and that ‘professionals must pay with their jobs’. At the time he was leader of the opposition. He has subsequently come and gone as Prime Minister.

Mr Gove, who was the Shadow Secretary of State in 2008, joined in the targeting of Sharon Shoesmith, who was quickly (and the High Court in 2011 decided wrongly) dismissed from her post as Director of Children’s Services in Haringey. Mr Gove has also come and gone as a government minster … and has now recently come again.

Mr Gove has been a champion for Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun and The Times. Murdoch had also owned The News of the World. It closed amid the exposure of the long-standing criminality perpetrated by editors and reporters at the paper in hacking phones, including the phones of bereaved parents and a murdered school girl.

It took several years for the Metropolitan Police to conduct an appropriate and proper investigation into the criminal activities rampant within Mr Murdoch’s British press.

“At last acknowledged that the… threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top””

The self-serving parasitic relationships between the Murdoch press, Metropolitan police and politicians was exposed through the Leveson inquiry. At the inquiry Rebekah Brooks at last acknowledged several years late that her paper’s threat and harassment of Sharon Shoesmith was “cruel, harsh and over top” and that “balance went right out of the window”.

Mrs Brooks, who was found not guilty of charges at the phone hacking trial, claimed that she knew nothing about the wide-spread criminality in the organisation she led, even though this criminality also included the actions of her deputy editor, Andy Coulson. Mr Cameron had appointed Mr Coulson as his media advisor, an appointment which ended when Coulson was convicted and then imprisoned.

Politicians have come and gone. So have senior police officers. The hacking investigations and trial led to the closure of a newspaper, prison sentences for newspaper editors, and a major public inquiry. That inquiry, however, has been cut short.

Its major recommendations on regulating abusive press behaviour are not being enacted and the press continues to intrude, bully, and abuse much as before. The Sun, for example, recently and remarkably used its ‘blood on their hands’ banner headline, this time to target Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonald and Diane Abbot during the 2017 general election campaign.

And Mr Murdoch and Mrs Brooks have had their down times but are now again both flourishing.

“None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers.”

But what of the social workers and social work? None of the social workers or managers targeted by The Sun have been able to regain employment as social workers, despite those whose cases were heard by the social work regulator allowing them to continue their registration as social workers.

Sharon Shoesmith has completed a PhD and written a book about child and familial homicide but has not been able to get paid employment since being dismissed by Haringey Council at the instigation of Ed Balls (another politician who has come and gone).

Not surprisingly, it is now difficult to recruit and retain social workers (and specialist doctors working in child protection) to work in statutory children’s services with the continuous threat that they too could be a focus of vilification and vengeance by the media. There is now a dependency in most local authorities on short-term interim agency social workers and managers with services no longer having the stability, continuity and experience which is needed to provide good children’s and family social work and child protection.

There has also been a dramatic shift in social work and social services practice from helping children and families to an emphasis on surveillance, assessment, risk management and child protection.

Since 2008 there has been a 90% increase in England in child protection investigations (now running at over 170,000 a year) and a 130% (and still rising month-by-month) increase in court proceedings to remove children from families. In part, this reflects more defensive practice by professionals and agencies fearful of media attacks.

But it also reflects big cuts in government funding to local authorities (a 40% reduction since 2010 and still to be reduced further) with the closure of Sure Start programmes, children’s centres and youth services. This is at the same time as draconian cuts in social security and housing benefits are moving more families into severe poverty and destitution and making it harder for stressed and overwhelmed parents to care well for their children.

The response of the Conservative-led governments has been to see this all as an opportunity to say that social work is not good enough and the answer is to take children’s social services outside of local councils. They have sought to create a commercial and competitive market place open to all comers who can now be contracted to provide these services, and to favour fast-track social work education outside of universities provided by independent companies and shaped by management consultancy and international accountancy firms.

‘Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown’

Who would have anticipated in 2007 that within ten years one of the safest child protection systems in the world, based on 40 years of learning and development, would have been churned up and undermined by politicians using the ammunition provided by the tabloid press whipping up public hostility and in the context of politically-chosen austerity?

In the book, ‘The Story of Baby P’, I comment that “my greatest horror is what happened to a little child, Peter Connelly, and my concern is that the campaigning by The Sun and others has done nothing to make it safer for children like Peter”.

It certainly has not made it safer. Child protection services in many areas are now at the point, and for some beyond the point, of breakdown. This is today’s story which the media choose not to cover – unless of course every so often they skew the story and focus on another child death and find new social workers to abuse and attack.

Dr Ray Jones is a registered social worker, a former director of social services, and an emeritus professor of social work and frequent media commentator and columnist.

 

2017_The story of Baby P_NEW FC 4 webThe Story of Baby P by Ray Jones is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website.  Order here for just £11.99

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book

Ray

Ray Jones

As part of our focus on impact for Academic Book Week, author Ray Jones talks about the terrible and tragic death of Peter Connelly, the devastating fallout for the social work profession, and how his book, The Story of Baby P, has made a difference.

The terrible and tragic death of 17 month old Peter Connelly in Haringey, North London, in August 2007 became a major media story in November 2008 when his mother and two men were found guilty of ‘causing or allowing’ Peter’s death.

To avoid prejudicing a further trial, when one of the men was convicted of raping a little girl, the media was not allowed to publish Peter’s real name so he became known as ‘Baby P’. The press, politicians and police worked together on shaping the ‘Baby P story’ so that it targeted social workers and their managers who were described by The Sun newspaper as having ‘blood on their hands’.

The police and health services faded unseen and uncriticised to the margins of the media coverage, although it is now known that there were significant failings and omissions in their contacts with the Connelly family.

‘A campaign for justice’

It was The Sun newspaper and its editor, Rebekah Brooks, who had full page ‘Baby P’ stories day-after-day as she ran ‘a campaign for justice’ demanding the sackings of the social workers, their managers and, in particular, Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey Council’s director of children’s services.

“A shameful and sordid bullying use of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid power.”

Continue reading ‘Telling the truth about Baby P: Ray Jones on the impact of his book’

7 questions to ask when watching tonight’s ‘Baby P’ documentary

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.

 

Ray Jones, author of 'The story of Baby P: Setting the record straight'

Ray Jones, author of ‘The story of Baby P: Setting the record straight’

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.

books

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:

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

Related links:

Seven years on, why is the Baby P case still making headlines? The Guardian article by Harry Ferguson 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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.


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