Rotherham – a Perfect Storm

We hear yesterday (26.08.14) the full extent of the heartbreaking story of children in Rotherham. A paedophile ring so vile and widespread in a relatively small areas that over 1400 children children (at current numbers) were subjected to horrific and longstanding sexual, emotional and physical abuse.  Although it would be more than right to concentrate on the effect upon these children, their families, friends etc … instead the failings on many levels of the child protective services is something that needs some urgent discussion over and above the condemnation of the failure to protect so many children.  

Rotherham has a population of roughly 250,000 and children between the ages of 10-17 account for about 25,000 of that population.  If the figures are correct, and I’m no statistician, the 1400 children would account for about 5% of the total population of children in the age range indicated in the report.  If the majority of these were girls as suggested, then we are perhaps looking at a full 10% of the 10-17 year old female population having suffered, not just now but long into the future.  These figures are beyond horrific and suggest failings on a huge level across services and from the community itself. A perfect storm of failure of a huge percentage of Rotherham children. 

We cannot get away from the personal failings of many organisations in Rotherham.  It cannot be one or 2 police officers or social workers or teachers etc., but instead a failure of management and the whole system of children protection.  We can easily, once more, get into the blame game and in certain incidents for those who knew and did nothing there should be significant consequences, but we now cannot and should not ignore the fact that child protective services in the UK remain patchy, uncoordinated and at best average.  There is of course some excellent work that goes on but this is perhaps the exception rather than the norms.  Certainly on the ground evidence suggests that no real positive change has happened and that services, management and policy are far from where they should be.  

Consecutive governments have talked the talk about child protection and have rarely put their money or energies where their mouths are.  Child protection remains at the bottom of a pile until the next great scandal.   Then are the right things are said and, in general, not a great deal changes.  This is not a matter of taking political sides but instead who cares.  At the moment it appears that not enough really do until a scandal means they have to.  

So why a perfect storm?  What has come out in Rotherham is a microcosm of all that is concerning about child protection in the UK.  The lack of political will and covering up of mistakes and failings, a management structure that prevents professionals protecting children properly, the process and organisation appear more important than the children, a lack of any preventative services, no real communication or resources for significant abuse rings, no responsibility for mistakes and decision making from management and politicians, a concern about political correctness, a community that was unwilling ir unable to be involved in child protection, whistleblowers censured, the de-professionalisation of expert child protection workers in favour of process and targets, underfunding and understaffing of ALL child protection services, family court reforms looking at targets and money and not children … i really could go on and on.  Again I will say that their a good pockets of work but as a service nationally we have failed and continue to fail our children.  

However in one area in particular there should be a very real concern that perhaps sums up the concerns. In Rotherham many of the victims were themselves either child in care or having just left care.  Children who were particularly vulnerable where workers and services should have been there to continue to support and protect.  The failing here reflect a very real problem with those children across the country and in particular the failings to support the most vulnerable into adulthood.  Leaving care systems remain a little acknowledged national problem with 1000’s of children being placed in places of danger without proper support or funding.  

What lessons to be learnt from Rotherham? To be honest people both inside children protection and the general public must be sick and tired of hearing this.  Some lessons are always learnt from these scandals but in the end they continue to happen.  There must now be a recognition that child protection has to change both in terms of systems and funding.  There are so many disparate parts of it that disfunction is more likely that cohesion and effective protection.  It is important that there is an acknowledgement that child protection is a place for everyone and not just the services that work on it everyday.  That the community and the nation should be actively involved and feel that it is wholly right to make child protection a national priority and not a political football.  

The lesson to learn from Rotherham is not where do we need to tinker at the edges or who is to blame but it should be how important are children to the country to the community and to start to design a service that does the best for them.  Rotherham, the perfect storm of all that is wrong with child protection, should not be a lesson but the start of real change that shows us to be the society that puts children above everything else.  This is not just a change for the child protection system but how we as a society value and protect our children.  Unfortunately, at the present time, we cannot say we do anywhere near enough and therefore we wait for the next storm and the next ……

 

 

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5 Comments on “Rotherham – a Perfect Storm”

  1. Barefootsw says:

    I agree that a radical overhaul of the child protection system is urgently needed. However, social work has lost its way and is so chaotic it may be incapable of getting back on track. The blame should not be put on underfunding because councils have done their best to protect children’s services budgets. We need social workers who are properly trained for child protection work and can do the job well and restore public confidence in them. Selection should be on the basis of having the qualities to get to grips with the inherent contradictions within the social work role. I discuss these issues in my article on the Approved Child and Family Practitioner Status at: http://www.radical.org.uk/barefoot/approvedsw.htm

  2. Jonathan Ritchie says:

    My solution.

    Break up the social work mafia.

    Let the police run child protection based on the criminal law. No more forced adoption/child trafficking based on stasi like allegations of psychological abuse.

    Families must be perduaded that they can ask for help without risking their childrrn being taken away.e

    Volunary Organisations to offer family support with investment from government.

    Social wotk has lost public trust.

  3. Jasmine says:

    I’m 17 and for the longest time, the only career I’ve ever wanted has been to go into social work. Every person I tell, advices me not to but also praises me for wanting to. Every time I hear another story, article or tv report blame everything on Child protection it makes me incredibly nervous to work in the field but honestly I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather do. I hope by the time I enter my career as a social worker in a few years some things will have changed but I highly doubt they will have. If social work keeps getting budget cuts and remains at the bottom of the governments priority list, it’ll never get better and it keeps hurting more and more children! I don’t know everything about social work nor how everything really works (which I will eventually learn), but putting the blame only on social workers is definitely not doing any good and only making things worse!!

  4. skj20072014 says:

    We all take on jobs to be professionals and experts in our roles, to serve the community especially social workers and I’m sure police officers too.

    The problem is over time the get caught in the powerful structures of our employer and end up like little ants working tirelessly and inevitably some through weariness and will begin to lose sight in the end of the real reason they initially took on their job, be they are a police officer, a social worker or a council worker and their pension pot may become the overriding factor as to why they remain they roles.

    All the time there is hierarchy in the structures which create power struggles within the workforces, individuals will always feel gagged and are forced to weigh up losing an income over speaking out which is perhaps not an option for some.

    However it appears there was more than a blind eye turned in Rotherham to the suffering of those children, it appears that collectively as a community of professionals they all made the choice to ignore the suffering of vulnerable children, nobody cared. This has really nothing in my view to do with community, as soon as children are known to social services, they become the cooperate parent and the duty lies on the social services to safeguard these children because they have collectively formed the view that their families cannot keep them safe.

    Taking a long hard look at the power structures of these highly powerful organisations has to be the first step in understanding what went wrong in Rotherham with a view to diffuse some of it, listening to staff on the ground has to be the second and putting in practice their recommendations, and creating new systems of care and support that can protect children has to the third. These new systems should be joined up services comprising multidisciplinary teams of professionals. How else will we ever learn to work together.

    It is up to MP’s now to debate in Parliament the issue of why our current child protection services are unable to safeguard our children. It is not an exhaustive list of recommendations that is required but a diffusion of power, listening to staff on the ground and multidisciplinary working.


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