Last week we saw the report into the multiple and significant failings at Rotherham in relation to recent and historic child abuse issues. It is a damning report which cites issues with every agency tackling the problem.
It is, of course, not novel to have a report into failings on this scale. Quite clearly the Savile report showed a scale of child abuse which had previously not been considered. Previously individual care homes had been investigated, often after years of complaints, but for the sheer scale of it Savile was extraordinary. Here we have much the same. Different perpetrators, but numerous agencies at fault and over 1,000 children apparently subject to regular and horrific abuse.
The trouble is that we have become not hardened to it, but accustomed to it. How many reports does there have to be before we look at the way social work functions and indeed at the pressures from somewhere exerted onto the child protection agencies?
With my clinical negligence lawyer hat on, I know that a good proportion (but by no means all) cases involve often junior practitioners who do not seek or do not have access to senior more experienced staff and make errors. They miss things. They don’t question or investigate when they should. Where senior staff are involved, usually in the more serious cases, errors are generally less.
By contrast, social workers often work the other way round. Certainly they are supervised by more experienced team members who can go through cases with them, but day to day attending homes, talking to family members and children, is often done at a very junior level. Caseloads have increased as social work has become a less attractive career and budget cuts have been imposed on what should be a priority service. All of these factors impact on what service is provided.
Then we have the issue of influence from others, from local government, from senior members of the police (who often have the same issue about protection officers on the ground), from somewhere else. No one can measure it. It is a culture which develops around an ethos which is fundamentally more about protection of the service than the child.
The problems with Stafford Hospital were known long before the very thorough enquiry which has started to change the way hospitals operate and how they are managed. There were issues of resources and finance, but ultimately it was the culture that was significantly at fault. The failure to report, to investigate, to challenge the status quo.
Savile was known for what he was before his death although not for the sheer scale of his abuse. He was protected by fame and power. Given recent cases in the criminal system (Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall for example) and Cyril Smith you have to wonder how unique he actually was. Nevertheless he was an individual and could be assigned to the unusual. His ability to access his victims was however, as at Stafford, a direct result of failing to report, to investigate and to challenge his position and actions.
The problems in Rotherham were known. There was sufficient information to identify a significant problem within a particular (in this case but by no means the vast majority of cases) community. Those members of that community were said to be protected by fear of racism allegations but ultimately it is the same group of agencies who have made the same or similar failings. They failed to act. They failed to protect. Ultimately they failed to do the job they were set up to do.
Perhaps, like Stafford Hospital which was found to be simply not good enough, child protection in Rotherham is much the same. What they need is the equivalent review and sufficient public outrage to force change.