Monday, December 01, 2008

Baby P Case Must Not End Here

Outrage over the death of Baby P should not be allowed to end with a few words from schools secretary, Ed Balls. At stake is the future of children let down by his government's miserable and weak child protection policies.

Only when the full facts are made public will lasting lessons be learnt.

Announcing the outcome of an independent investigation, schools secretary told the public nothing they didn't know already. "Things went tragically wrong". The findings, were "damning" and "devastating." There were "clear failures in practice and management." The serious case review was "inadequate."

Fine words from the cabinet minister who after all has ultimate responsibility for child protection and whose department has ultimate accountability. Words the school secretary was quick to throw around earlier in an effort to switch the blame to others.

For two weeks the inspectors have been examining why the toddler was not taken into care, despite numerous injuries including broken ribs and eventually a broken back, while the council department was allowed to carry on as normal.

Balls was only stung into ordering an independent inquiry after the abysmal and inhuman performance of the prime minister in the commons, branding the Conservative leader's request for an inquiry as party politics.

The Orange Party never subscribed to that view nor did the public, outraged and left numb wondering how on earth this could have happened in the first place.

It has taken today's report before the leader of the council and the cabinet member overseeing social services in Haringey eventually resigned.

But, clinging on to the end, director Sharon Shoesmith was eventually suspended. So much for the backing of the 61 Haringey headteachers who crawled out of nowhere to back the director in that shameless piece of party politicking.

What is still left in the air is the future of the original serious case review into this awful case and whether that vital report will ever be made public.

And the central issue of how on earth did this Haringey department receive such a glowing Ofsted report, just a year before the tragedy.

Balls announced there would be no public inquiry into this case. After all, the last one didn't do much good so why even bother with another.

What is required is a long hard look at what went wrong, to learn lessons and perhaps this time to make sure it can never happen again. For that to happen with public confidence, the department should not be allowed to continue in its present form and should come out of direct council control.

Lessons will be learnt only when all the facts are made public. Not least the original serious case review which must point to these failings. And some hard questions need to be asked of the standards watchdog, Ofsted.

Just what is the point of this quango if all it does is hand out praise to a council service while a child was tortured to death.

This afternoon the shadow children's minister, Michael Gove, made a telling statement, when he said: "I'm in constraint in what I can say because I have received information which is not in the public domain and it should be. It should be a public process. At the moment, we're not allowed to know what went wrong, therefore we're not in a position to put it right."

This case had a child's death at the centre but it was all about party politics from the outset in the Haringey political minefield, a New Labour government, a Labour local council and a government sympathetic quango. And time and again the Orange Party asked just what did ministers know about Haringey.

Balls must show that he can take some decisive action in the public interest and share responsibility and accountability instead of just talking up to his name.

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