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Ed Balls irritates me. It isn’t perhaps the most measured judgement, I accept that, but every time now I see his name in any form of media representation, a little part of me cringes and mutters away to myself in language that could not be printed.
He is the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I’m sure he’s a very nice guy when you meet him but it is in that capacity that he makes me squirm.
He was extremely vocal in the wake of the media interest in the case of Baby P – a child in who was known to Haringey Social Services who died at the hands of his carers despite being on the Child Protection Register. And I certainly wouldn’t criticise him for that. It is perfectly understandable and acceptable as the minister responsible for Children that he would take an interest.
My reaction and inability to think of him in more logical terms comes from the way he has gone out of his way to court The Sun – a typically right-wing tabloid that has with its ‘Campaign for Justice for Baby P’ published the names of front line social workers and demanded for their sackings and repeatedly whipped up a frenzy of hatred to be directed at professionals rather than perpetrators.
While I have stated on a number of occasions that I will never defend poor practice, a lot of the systemic failures in the organisation of social services departments comes from above rather than from the front line and without any protection or defence, it is the management – perhaps the Sharon Shoesmiths of the world that should be held to account and public ridiculing, more than the Maria Wards and Lisa Arthurworreys of the world.
Yesterday he said that senior managers should get out of the office more. Which is a fair sentiment. Although I don’t work in Childrens’ Services, I do feel a distinct detachment from the more senior service managers – not least because the Adult Care Directorate has merged with Housing Directorate in our local authority. I also sometimes feel that those who commission services should come out on visits with us sometimes to actually meet the people we are telling that we cannot provide services to because they do not exist – but I’ve been slightly waylaid there.
Back to Balls.
Handling the Baby P case had been a “real challenge” for him as children’s secretary, he said. He had had to balance taking action to ensure child protection systems were fit for purpose “without being too heavy handed, damaging morale and undermining the progress that we have made in recent years to improve child protection”.
So he doesn’t think a campaign by the Sun which, and I quote
demands all social workers involved in the case are sacked and never allowed to work with vulnerable kids again
was justified and that he acted properly in supporting a campaign calling for front line workers to be sacked in a tabloid newspaper without consideration of the processes of the professional body (the GSCC) which regulates social workers in England.
But Balls told the conference he had no regrets: “When I took the action that was needed, there was still a sense among certain sections of the profession that my actions were fuelled by the media. But, I have to say, faced with a catalogue of failings … I believe I did the right thing and I would do exactly the same thing again.”
So that’s comforting. And how exactly does he think this will aid recruitment? OK, I am broadening out from this particular case, but he is happy to pander to a tabloid campaign which directly criticises exactly those front-line workers he is claiming he wants to recruit?
My main concern is not that he took an interest or action and sacked Shoesmith but more that he allied himself completely with The Sun so that the newspaper could play it out as ‘their victory’. As detailed on 1st December where the Sun wrote
THE shamed Director of Haringey children’s services has been removed from her post today over the Baby P scandal in a massive victory for The Sun
Mr Balls said he recognised the strength of The Sun’s petition which was signed by 1.3million readers calling for Ms Shoesmith to be sacked — along with social workers Maria Ward, Sylvia Henry and Gillie Christou.
And then he panders a bit more when he decides that an agony aunt from the same newspaper who has no background or experience in social work is exactly the right person to sit on a committee looking at the future of social work?
I can think of a lot of adjectives I would use to describe Ed Balls but none of them would be publishable.