Friday, December 05, 2008

Baby-P: the power of 'positive thinking'

THE FALL-OUT from the Baby-P case has begun to hit various officers and staff at the London Borough of Haringey with blame and recriminations being thrown around Рand recalling the findings of the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbi̩, also in Haringey.
That inquiry painted a clear picture of insufficient numbers of social workers, some of whom were only partially trained and inexperienced in legal child protection work. Staff were dealing with 19 caseloads at a time when 12 was the recommended maximum. Managers then blamed the front line staff for failing to report that they were not coping.
The inquiry found that managers were “way out of touch with what was happening at the grass roots and did not really seem to care”.
Ms Bradley, a social worker in one of the long-term teams and a Unison representative, described the situation as “conveyor belt social work”. She said that the “ethos seemed to be particularly about getting the cases through the system and meeting the targets, meeting the statistics, getting them through the system”, rather than doing the work that needed to be done.
This refrain will strike a chord with most people who work on the front line in various civil service, local authorities and NHS services. And it’s all down to a culture of cuts and privatising services that goes back to the Thatcher years. On the front line staff leave and are not replaced; workloads grow.
At the same time a culture of targets is introduced and pressure is put on management to continually “improve” the services with fewer and fewer staff. Those who fail fear they will be among the next round of cuts. The targets cannot really be met so the statistics are doctored to make it appear so; middle managers spend all their time becoming accomplished spin doctors, neglecting all other duties. And upper management levels never hear any bad news from below. They live in a world of sugary optimism and fantasy while oblivious to the crumbling mess that the services are turning into below them.They call this “positive thinking” and wage a continual war against “negative thinking” – or objective reality as the frontline staff and their clients would see it.
When cuts and services fall below a certain level in most areas they will provoke a public outcry. Closed schools, hospitals, libraries, parks and playing field will spark local protests. The more middle class the area, the more articulate the protests will be generally. Councillors who wish to be re-elected will spread their limited funding accordingly.
There are few protest demonstrations on behalf of the really poor and disadvantaged; the mentally ill, the disabled, the downtrodden, disillusioned and alienated. Abused children are powerless to organise a protest and demand more social workers. So these are the departments that get cut and cut and cut.
The media pay no attention until a scandalous tragedy happens. Then there will be outrage in the papers, an inquiry and a plan of action. In a few months’ time Haringey council will report that it has put into action a new plan to improve social services, with targets, deadlines and all the rest. The statistics will soon show the plan has been implemented and is working well – more “positive thinking”. And only the frontline staff and the abused children will know what is really happening.
Haringey is not alone. This is happening all around the country and it is a miracle that cases like Baby P do not happen more often.
The real answer is to recognise that the narrow bourgeois family is an unnatural institution that isolates vulnerable children and women into tiny cells that can and do go very wrong; that the whole of society has a responsibility to take a share in the rearing and nurturing of children. The wider families of pre-capitalist times, involving umpteen grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to the umpteenth degree are gone and need to be replaced by crèches, child centres, after-school centres, youth clubs, young pioneer palaces and so on where young people can be taught that society welcomes and values them.
We need a society that values children and parenthood and is prepared to support both much more closely. We need socialism.

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