It has been leaked that there were thirty-one lost opportunities for Doncaster’s children’s services to intervene prior to the terrible injuries inflicted by two small boys on two other small boys. The incident need not have taken place, and people have been, or will be, held accountable.
It reminded us of a crisis many years ago, when a delegation of staff from a children’s home came to the Civic Centre to demand that a difficult girl should be removed forthwith from the home, or they were all going to walk out. After an hour and a half’s discussion, we had identified twenty-three precipitating factors which had led to the crisis, and in differing ways, a lot of us were responsible – the girl’s social worker, the school, senior departmental managers and the staff themselves. Often the failings were well-intentioned sins of omission, rather than commission, for example when the staff covered up for the girl when her behaviour problems started.
We are happy to say that in the end the staff agreed to carry on and the girl remained in the home some time before leaving on a planned basis for another placement. The important message, though, is that all of us are responsible – to differing degrees and in different ways, but responsible nonetheless. Someone who reads a memorandum, spots an issue of concern but fails to follow it up may be the last person in the system who could have remedied a problem before it caused damage.
In many of the major crises there can be dozens of people who have played some sort of role before the problems had an impact. Not all of them are culpable. In some cases it may be a well-intentioned policy which should not have been applied. Or it may be the effect of cuts, or of staff shortages, or of the confusion created by re-organisations. Or it may be the impact of national policies or changes in the law.
Or the economy. Where a community is well off, people may or may not be happier, but they have the resources to resolve many of their social problems, and there is a reduced demand for local government intervention. With the closure of the pits, Doncaster suffered serious hardship some years back, and the old mining communities became run down. In consequence, the burden for Doncaster Social Services Department will have increased when the local economy was weaker, and the Government system for allocating resources did not sufficiently recognise the needs of authorities such as Doncaster. The Council is working hard – and successfully – to rebuild the local economy, which should help Doncaster children years from now.
Whether as people in positions of influence, or as citizens or as child care professionals, we all carry responsibility, and while we must learn from tragedies we should beware of being too ready to cast stones.