Heads must roll....
by Celia Hannon
It is clear that Sharon Shoesmith should have resigned as a result of the failings in her department (although she was entitled to wait for an inquiry to be carried out), yet the treatment she has received in the press is unacceptable. Vilified on an almost daily basis on the front page of The Sun; it was also reported today that she and her daughter have received numerous death threats along with emails suggesting she should commit suicide. It's particularly notable that much of the abusive material has been 'more personal than that aimed at the three found guilty' of the crime itself. It seem that this crime is so incomprehensible it is almost easier to direct hatred towards professionals rather than the perpetrators themselves.
Let's put this in perspective. This a woman who has also been described as a dedicated public servant (more than 60 local Head teachers wrote a letter in her support at the outset of this scandal). Social Workers are particularly vulnerable to exactly this form of media persecution - there is not a strong enough equivalent to the British Medical Association to speak on their behalf. Meanwhile, all of this will only serve to deepen the crisis in social worker recruitment (a shortage which was already found to have contributed to the failings in Haringey).
When terrible things happen, we look for catharsis. Yet the removal of Sharon Shoesmith and her colleagues from office will do nothing to address the deeper failings of the care system. If we want to learn the right lessons from this tragedy we need to remember that hard cases make bad law. As more children are put into care as a direct result of Baby P's death, we need to be sure that the care system is actually improving their life chances rather than damaging them.
Our national propensity to look for the scapegoat is distracting us from the real question - how can we remove the disincentives for social workers to take children into state protection in the first place?