Cutting through the bullshit on Baby P

Chris Dillow cuts through the bullshit on Baby P:

Aren’t we holding social workers to impossibly high standards? I mean, we don’t expect the police to catch all or even most criminals, we don’t expect hospitals to avoid all unnecessary deaths, and we certainly don’t expect politicians to make perfectly rational judgments. So why expect perfection from social workers? The fact is that they have to take huge decisions under immense uncertainty. Errors are inevitable.

This is correct. It’s impossible to expect social workers to get it right all the time, and it’s also impossible to prevent evil parents from harming their kids. If public policy attempts to make these things never happen, it will not succeed because you can never succeed in doing the impossible.

In fact not only will it not succeed, it will probably make matters worse. If social workers expect they will be sacked or disciplined whenever anything goes wrong, they will never take any initiative but will do everything by the book and make sure that they tick all ther checkboxes on their “best practices” document. They will, in short, be reduced to human automatons following a script instead of using their own judgement. In fact, this is already happening to some extent:

The DCSF says “proper procedures” were followed after it got a complaint about Haringey social services in 2007. This has naturally caused outrage; how can “proper procedure” lead to the death of a child?

Whenever any public official gives the line of argument “we followed the procedures, so we can’t be blamed when things went wrong” they should be immediately sacked with loss of pension.

This is an example of a general principle: if management assumes workers are too stupid and incompetent to make decisions for themselves and attempts to micro-manage out their incompetentce, they will end up with workers who are in fact too incompetent to make decisions, because they will all just blindly follow the rules (and the most competent will probably leave anyway).

Most of this is obvious to any reasonably intelligent and throughtful person; certainly Gordon Brown and David Cameron are both clever enough to work it out. But will they be sensible or will they — egged on by the tasbloids — instead go for the Politicians’ Syllogism:

Something must be done; This is something; Therefore this must be done.

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3 Responses to Cutting through the bullshit on Baby P

  1. Pingback: Who’s to blame for the abuse of Baby P? - Scottish Roundup

  2. Carolynp says:

    I worked in social work for a while and I’ll never forget a friend I knew who left the field because a kid on her caseload was badly injured. She told me, “I thought she was a great foster parent.” I remember thinking, “Great, now we all have to be psychic, too.” No one can possibly feel worse over a kid getting hurt than someone who trained for eight years to help children. I agree that each case is an individual case and I have known some lousy and some crazy social workers, but I think people need to be a lot more open minded when these things happen (and they will, and yes, I know that sucks…) and simply wait for all the details to come out. I wish the press wasn’t so excited about public executions.

  3. Katie Griffiths says:

    I completely disagree! Errors will be made on the behalf of anyone but this is surely a poignant case with completely unmissable circumstances. Not only this, the ammount of opportunities given to have this child taken into far more apporpriate care were plentifull. The social workers in this area could have noticed this case a mile away and should have taken far more steps to have prevented this from happening.

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