Shoesmith speaks

I’ve not been a great defender of Shoesmith, the former Director of Children’s Services at Haringey,  but it doesn’t take much heart to have some sympathy for her ‘trial by media’ in the wake of the Baby P affair.

She has given an interview to The Guardian with the audio version here

There is also an editorial piece which makes interesting reading.

I have more sympathy for her than I did before I read and listened to the interview so for as much as that, it has served it’s purpose.

There is no doubt that mistakes were made with tragic consequences but the media storm and focus that made her consider suicide – well, I hope there are a few journalists who think about the work done in children’s services and the effects that their rabble-rousing has on individuals – when ultimately, there is a wish to work effectively and well within systems that are not always of the employees’ making.

As for Ed Balls, he has shown a wish to pander to the tabloid crowd.

Child Protection has become a political football to be bounced around as the public mood is ripe for targets.

Surely more needs to be done in a wider societal scale to prevent the circumstances that lead to abuse – and I’m not sure that an agony aunt at The Sun will have the answers.

13 thoughts on “Shoesmith speaks

  1. I listened to the Woman’s hour interview and felt that Sharon Shoesmith has obviously gone through hell since the death of Baby P.

    The problem, though, is that the children of many people in Britain and their parents don’t matter and there is a disconnect between the cultural ground we should all be able to aspire to and the reality of career management in public services.

    The problem is that people in higher management roles honestly believe that ‘at my level’ they should be able to rely on the quality of information given them and they become complacent about the neccessity of a dynamic reciprocity, at all levels of service and with the general public, to be able to really work with good quality information.

    Checking for the quality of information and how it can become more of a democratic part of social work would be a check and balance on how, for example, someone like Sharon, with a great track record, could transfer her knowledge and skills into this very desperate and polarised authority believing that the quality of the people around her and the way they were managing child protection accountability could be judged by Ofstead performance criteria and internal referencing alone.

    There are so many issues here that have to be taken forward. Social workers think they’re hated and reviled by the media, Sharon Shoesmith says that the parents of baby P, like the mother of Sharon Matthews, was so deceitful that everyone believed her, including the media.

    But I really think that the media and the public at large were appalled that noone in the council or social services were able to show any feelings at all for the child who was battered to death.

    The media is like a colander, full of the same kinds of holes we all hope are being plugged somewhere and know now that they aren’t. We all feel ashamed when another child or teenager or old person dies unneccesarily and we know we’re wrong but we’ve all signed up to letting the media ask for and demand our emotional responses.

    It was really sad to me that Sharon was so dedicated to her role that all her feelings about the death of baby P seemed to be channelled into the appalling way the media hounded her, her colleagues and her family and friends.

    if I were able to advise Haringey Social Services, I’d say,

    ‘Stop spending money on marketing your ‘results’, declare your area a ‘danger’ zone and demand emergency funding from the government to ensure that Ofsteading goes out into the community, evaluates how services work for the poor and takes that back into the way that social work policy is developed. I’d say demand that there is immediate funding to implement all the plans for the borough, now, this year, for an adequate infrastructure: housing, training, education, community activity and proper neighbourhood support with other boroughs.Have a national think tank about Haringey, people want to do something…coopt them, architects, planners, engineers, nurses, doctors…the borough needs help, it’s dying….

    The problem is that the management and audit of the perceived template of management ‘works’ because it is self referential and ‘allows’ for the children who ‘slip through the net’ as a norm. The public believe that the services have become so intricate and secretive that they assume that some groups or individuals are exploiting and abusing the secrecy for personal or commercial gain.

    The truth is probably somewhere in between, that the secrecy is probably the last vestige of good public service yet it’s within an over bureaucratic and commercialised round of careerism and consultancy that really undermines any long term good or impact on people’s lives.

    How many social workers does an individual ‘at risk’ see in the course of their life? Has anyone done any studies? If not why aren’t the outcomes of social work considered over the whole life cycle and put in the public domain?

    It’s very complex but I bet you’ve got lots of thoughts!

  2. Thanks for that, Paula. Really interesting. I don’t really feel I’m in a position to defend Shoesmith as she hasn’t really managed the situation well. I think , personally, that merging children and families social work services with education departments is a part of the cause of the difficulties. Shoesmith’s experience was as an educator and there is a massive difference in the work that is involved.
    I don’t think it is just Haringey suffering though – I think there is a more general malaise and Haringey is one example.
    And I think you are right about the perception of the public that the services are secretive or incompetant or both that is truly damaging to the profession and those who seek to practice in a professional manner.
    Honestly, I think some of the methods and requirements of inspections need to be reconsidered. Much more community work and outreach work ideally too but it is too costly for local or central govt who remain uninterested except when the media can cause a storm in particular circumstances.

    And I completely agree about life cycle work needing to be considered as an outcome for social work intervention. That is another reason I think the profession being split apart is only a bad thing in terms of outcomes.

  3. Saturday Morning is usually a time of contemplation and a slow read of the Guardian…………………..

    Not this morning.

    “Reckless Minister has put Children at risk” – Shoesmith

    Was the front page headline of the Guardian over what was obviously meant to be a heart tugging picture of this appalling woman.

    Instead she bore more than a passing resemblance to Myra Hindley!

    We were then subjected to several pages of what was obviously the start of a media ‘offensive’ by this creature to gain public sympathy.

    For those of you who have been in some foreign country for the last two years, this woman was the Director of Haringey Social Services who ignored all the evidence of apparent abuse of Baby P, allowed him to continue in the care of his evil Mother and partner until he eventually died from abuse.

    The abuse was so bad and so obvious, that even this attrocious Government was finally moved to act and the criminally negligent Shoesmith was dismissed.

    Now apparently this woman is contemplating legal action which implies ‘deal’ already been done with said Council and/or Government that she has something ‘on’ them.

    The only true thing that she utters in the three page ‘exclusive’(later to be repeated on the TV and Radio) is that ‘we were out of touch with public opinion’.

    Well there’s an understatement if ever there was one.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’(you notice these self appointed egotists immediately use a term which whilst not directly derogatory implies they are the ‘elite’ and we are merely the ‘masses’………………..and therefore we are ‘misguided’ due to our stupidity and do not realise whatever horror they were/are engaged in is actually for our own good!!!!!)……………..sorry I get blown off track!!

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ do not like seeing children die because Social Workers fail to do what they are paid to do and protect the children!

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ do not like to see dedicated Children’s Social services run by an unqualified ‘harpy’ with an over inflated salary employed because she can be a bigger b*%$£”d that any man in her efforts to cut costs.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ do not like to see Social Workers encouraged to work ‘with the parents’ no matter how awful they appear to be when the evidence suggests a baby is being abused merely because the cost of taking the child into care is high.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ also do not like to see Government ministers who have been partly responsible for the whole fiasco by increasing the Court costs for applying for care by about 2000% then prating on when one of their cost cutting minions make decisions which lead to children dying!

    So in that respect at least, Ms Shoesmith has it right.

    I expected this sort of article at some stage because clearly this black hearted creature wants some money out of her former employers(probably which will be paid for by the Government, and those bleeding heart idiots at the Guardian fell for her line hook line and sinker.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ has not got such a short memory and the Baby P case shocked people all the more because this had all happened before in Haringey with the Victoria Climbie case.

    Haringey has not changed and supposedly we were somehow meant to feel ’sorry’ Shoesmith in her ‘plight’.

    Somehow we were meant to empathise with her pleas that she might have committed suicide.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ all 1.2 million who signed the petition, probably would have offered to steady the knife over her wrists and assisted her suicide……….

    Do I blame her for Baby P’s death? Yes of course I do and so does any right thinking person not employed by a Council.

    Not for the ‘actuallite” of the abuse itself but certainly for the abuse of process and the entire failure to operate any remotely proper social services practise in terms of Child protection.

    It struck so many cords for me when the article refers to excessive ‘box ticking’ and being obsessed with achieving ‘targets’ whilst ignoring basic child ‘welfare’ principles.

    And here’s the ‘rub’ – this is where I could feel some sympathy with Shoesmith because Social Services departments have been pushed and pushed and pushed by Central Government into performance targets which reflect on numerical outcomes and not on the needs of the Vulnerable people and children Social Services were meant to protect – but then I remembered unlike Baby P and arguably her Mother, Sharon Shoesmith with her salary well in excess of £100K, had choices, the Baby who she was charged with protecting did not.

    So my ’sympathy’ evaporated alongside her complete lack of it for anyone except herself.

    There are too many Baby Ps and too many Sharon Shoesmith – if we eradicate one we will have less of the others.

    Central Government needs to ensure that the people dealing with the lives of Vulnerable Children and Adults are properly experienced and qualified to do so and where they are not and are merely generic ‘managers’ – they need to be moved aside or there will be more and more Baby Ps.

    More and more vulnerable adults made more vulnerable by people ‘managing’ to keep costs down at the ‘expense’ of vulnerable people who have no other choices than to ask for the help they need.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ do not want to listen to the whingeing of a highly paid public official like Shoesmith about her ‘plight’.

    Actually we want to see more of them who have in essence been responsible for Children’s deaths being made to pay for those deaths and not just by losing their jobs.

    Where was the investigation into the criminal negligence which led to this death?

    The final straw for me was the inset picture with a caption which read,

    “Looking back

    Sharon Shoesmith’s life has changed since her dismissal. She has no savings, income or pension, and is being supported by family and friends”

    If this was designed to make us feel sympathy all it did for me was make me wonder how anyone appointed someone who cannot even manage her own finances when she is earning somewhere in the order of £140,000 per year and yet ends up with no savings?

    It seems hardly surprising that she cocked up Haringey when she cannot even manage her own affairs!

    Perhaps she needs a care assessment and some training in budgetting along with of course, some basis education in what social care is actually about.

    Of course this is the beginning of her ‘campaign’ to get some money but frankly was anyone convinced?

    I just could not get the ‘unfortunate’ images of that poor child out of my mind and then all I could see in Ms Shoesmith was not a ’victim’ but a ‘perpetrator’ and whilst not agreeing with the alleged harassment she received, I certainly understood the anger which generated it.

    Strangely enough, the ‘public’ do not view Ms Shoesmith with any sympathy but view her as wicked and I share that view.

  4. Chris – Thanks for that. I can understand why there is such a strong feeling. In some ways though it is a system that allowed someone who had no experience to head such an important department when the inspections were just requiring ‘tick box’ responses that is more to blame for a system that can’t respond effectively to child protection concerns.

    I think the central govt though have been incredibly disingenuous to wash their hands of any responsibility as the changes in the systems are partly to blame.

    But that she should be pushed to suicide, I disagree, no-one should be pushed to that stage.

  5. Hi CB
    I certainly did not want to suggest that she should have been pushed to suicide for the same reasons as you.

    However I have a slight disagreement with the systems point.

    Firstly she took a highly paid job supposedly with the knowledge of what she was taking on so little sympathy with her there.

    Secondly, it is no excuse if she took the job on a wing and a prayer through ‘greed’.

    She and all other Directors have a responsibility it seems to me, to fight the corner of their staff and service users to ensure they have adequate resources to discharge their functions and to refuse to comply with any system which allows budget “deficits” to rule “provision”.

    By taking the money and doing nothing, to address the underlying problems she is colluding with Central Government which pretends “vision” but then fails to provide adequate resource to facilitate implementation.

    So I will shed no tears for the apparently ‘potless’ Ms Shoesmith who alongside everything else even failed to save up for her enforced departure.

  6. I was surprised to read in the Guardian article of Sharon Shoesmith’s career rise…she was a special needs teacher who became a Director of Special needs….and then did it say…she became a Director of Education?

    It seems that she was/is an outstanding individual but, like baby P has not the life and work experience to understand what was going on around her and, really Sharon Shoesmith was failed by the system who pushed her beyond her limits.

  7. I think you have to be very careful when creating ‘evil’ people in discussion, conversation or rumour.
    The media have already constructed the poles of the debate on what two kinds of ‘Sharons’ (at two ends of society) do when they have too much power….

    Underlying the media conversation and the development of any social service response is a real misogyny. I don’t know what the gender balance is in social work but it does seem to me that, like teaching, it’s easy to take a ‘poke’ at it because it’s a feminised profession.

    Having said that, the management and power structures, both in the IT bureuacracy and the senior management philosophies all tend to a masculinist and rational parametric approach. Sharon Shoesmith must have been tough to succeed and it did strike me that she’d swallowed whole some of the myths about single parents in the Guardian article she said that we didn’t realise that the mother was deceiving us ‘we just thought she was a chaotic single parent’

    but what does the average instittutional parametric gain from that analysis? It’s a shorthand that only reflects a partial understanding of the way a woman on her own with a child might be targetted, played, so that they aren’t even aware that they are being exploited, made dependant, pushed away from their natural instincts to protect their children.

    Apparently, it doesn’t take very long to undermine a single mother by a determined predator, turn a need for connection into a dependence, an addiction, whether for sex or drugs, the internet, or even violence.

    The parametrics will enable social workers to ‘discover’ the mother’s inability to distinguish her needs from the child’s but will not examine and recognise the way being on a low income with a child seems now to be an opportunity for these women and their children to be brutalised, on the one hand by men who want power and on the other, by a system of surveillance and intervention that simply reports the effects of abuse as a mother’s ‘chaotic autobiography’ which because of the ‘chaos’ allows overworked workers to produce inadequate reports…..

  8. Chris – I have to say, I’m not one that has enormous amounts of sympathy for directors who are actually in a position to make changes – but I really think her lack of experience in social work was a failing of a system that melded a social work and education department.
    Paula – I never knew she was a special needs teacher but that still isn’t necessarily the background needed for leading a Children’s Dept.
    I hadn’t thought of it in terms of misogyny but I think you make a good point. It is certainly easy to target ‘social work’ and ‘teaching’ when the ‘fault’ in society runs much deeper.

  9. Hi CB & Paula


    Complete and utter rubbish.

    Sharon Shoesmith is a career orientated individual who has on the face of it, made the most of her gender.

    She would never have gotten this far if she was facing misogyny.

    I might hate her but only because she has allowed a child to die, not because she is a woman.

    Get a life.

  10. Actually it was Baby Ps parents and immediate family who allowed a child to die. – including the father who is allegedly ‘disgusted’ with Ms Shoesmith.

  11. Chris – it is about systems rather than individuals that I was referring to. Wider societal factors. One of which may well be misogyny.
    As for hatred of her, there are issues of competence but I don’t really think of that as a reason to hate. If by saying that, or discussing it, you think it indicates a lack of humanity, then we will have to at least, respectfully, agree to disagree.

    As Fran says, there are people who are responsible for Baby P’s death and they are in prison.

  12. hi CB I would not summon up enough negative energy to actually hate her and everyone has redeeming points.

    And in re-reading post I feel the need to apologise for being abrupt, there is much we agree on and I enjoy your posts. So sorry to both of you.

    we should not fall out over this issue – enough harm has already been done.

    As for the people in prison for the death we can agree on their responsibility, but they are not alone in their guilt.

    I also feel that the incompetence in Haringey has cause wider harm to a profession by and large which has very decent people doing very decent jobs in the face of attacks from all sides, including target driven managers and politicians.

  13. No problem at all, Chris.

    I am no blind defender of management systems at local or national level. I think they are endeavouring to crush a lot of the good work that can and should be done.

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