Saturday, 13 March 2010

‘Stuck Professionals’..?

The case of Shahnaz Malik was recently raised by Counting Cats as yet another example of the SS getting it wrong, with damning newspaper headlines and doughty MP John Hemming involved in ensuring the disinfectant of sunlight gets shone on their actions.

The BBC couldn’t let that stand and are in full protection mode:
The headlines were not incorrect. Questions about a conversation on Caesareans between mother and child did crop up during police inquiries.
Implying that this was not the initial issue…
So, a Child Protection Plan - which places the child on what used to be known as the "at risk" register - for hugging a child and telling her about Caesareans?
I’m guessing the Beeb thinks no.

Good guess!
Well... "no", says the committee which reviewed her case.
And they’d have no reason to say that, would they?
By her own admission Ms Malik has suffered a strained relationship with Birmingham City Council Children's Social Care.

She made a complaint against a health visitor and refused to attend some meetings, including the one which put her daughter in the Child Protection Plan.
Refusal to co-operate with the authorities. That’s probably her first black mark.
Birmingham City Council refuses to discuss individual, ongoing cases, but in case documents seen by the BBC…
How fortuitous! Where did they get them from, I wonder?
… a GP reported the child was "unruly," adding Ms Malik did not intervene when the child misbehaved.
That’s a case for concern?

The police had better raid Tesco then; last time I was in there, a kid was throwing packages of sweets to the floor in an unruly tantrum, while mum chatted on her phone. Obviously, an unfit mother…
Nursery staff said the child expressed "very challenging behaviour" and swore.
And that’s unusual? Give me a break!

That’s cause for taking the kid out to cool down, even expelling him if it continues, but not for calling the SS. If it was, they’d be swamped!
In notes produced by the Child Protection Conference, West Midlands Police describe Ms Malik as "manipulative and overpowering" when making complaints about the nursery - complaints which were later dropped.
Ahh, West Midlands Police, butt of so many posts here. The force who, when a tv programme uncovered evidence of radicalisation of Muslims at a mosque, stepped in to take action…against the tv producer.

I think we can imagine what they’d make of a stroppy mother making accusations against the authorities, can’t we?
There are also concerns over the child's education, with Ms Malik saying she is not currently willing to put her child into a conventional school.
Aha! Yet another challenge to the authorities, and a particular bugbear at the moment.
But many people say the child is not in any serious danger, the concerns are minor and the council overcautious.

Indeed, Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley, John Hemming, called the case "trivial," and Ms Malik rejects many of the allegations.
You know there’s a ‘But…’ coming, don’t you?
Behind the "nanny state versus victimised family" claims, the case is one of many which represent the tightrope care services increasingly feel they must walk when dealing with children.

And Birmingham City Council has more reason than most to be sensitive.
They aren’t walking any tightrope, though, are they?

They are goosestepping into people’s lives because they can’t cope with making decisions on the facts of the case – everything has to fit a template or a checklist.
Last month its children's services were savaged by a High Court Judge following the death of Khyra Ishaq.
So now, it’s action stations on anything and everything, even cases that bear no relation to that one.
Then, Birmingham was pilloried for not doing enough for Khyra. Now the same department risks being too interfering when death is not a threat.
Director for Children's Social Care at Birmingham City Council, Colin Tucker, said: "It can be a case of you're damned if you do and damned if you don't."
No, you’ll only be damned when you stop overreacting to the trivial cases and stop underreacting to the urgent cases. You know, make a decision. It’s what you are paid for, after all.

It’s hard not to look at this case and see it as the authorities making initial enquiries, being rebufed by smart, middle-class professionals and then deciding to hound them to the fullest extent of the law.
On Thursday Ms Malik's child was presented to police by her brother. In that instance the girl was allowed to return to her mother.
Note the implicit threat...
West Midlands Police have written to John Hemming MP to say they still have concerns Ms Malik may continue to avoid contact with social services and try to leave the country.
And why shouldn't she? She's a free woman, isn't she? Or is she..?

Meanwhile, Patrick Butler in 'CiF' looks at the incest case and concludes that this is a new phenomenon - that of the 'stuck professional':
It was not just the enormity of the crimes that went on within Family Q that astonishes; it is the length of time – 35 years – that they went unchallenged, despite the virtually uninterrupted involvement over that of period of 28 different welfare agencies and more than 100 safeguarding professionals.
I'd say it's pretty much a foregone conclusion, almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once it had passed through a few hands, who'd want to rock the boat? 'No-one else did anything, I don't want to stick my head above the parapet' would have gone the reasoning...
Despite the "quiet words" between professionals sharing private suspicions, no one took responsibility or action, and the family's grim narrative unfolded unimpeded, surviving successive policy initiatives and developments in child protection practice.
It matters not that the protocols and politics changed; the people did not.
Anyone looking for easy scapegoats will be disappointed by the SCR: it concludes that the staff in every agency involved, from police to social workers, were competent, experienced and qualified. They acted in good faith and were "concerned to play their part," the report says, and for the most part their work was "competent and consistent".
Everyone was competent. It's just that everyone was ineffective. Isn't this a basic failure of any large government-run organisation?
So what went wrong? The report identifies an intriguing concept: the "stuck professional." This describes a well-meaning practitioner who suspects incest or abuse, but becomes paralysed by indecision. They wait for clear evidence – charges, or a disclosure by the victim. They subcontract their professional judgment to others.
Or possibly, they lack that professional judgement in the first place, after many years ground down by bureacracy?
Doctors and police concluded no intervention was warranted, because geneticists could not prove abnormalities in babies born to Adult R's daughters were the result of incest.
Were any of those daughters underage? Did that not prompt action?
Petrified of the possible legal consequences of making an allegation of incest, perhaps even unable to face the horror of what was happening, the "stuck" safeguarding professionals diverted their energy into managing the consequences of the family's dysfunctionality: arranging multiple house moves, procuring equipment for the daughters' disabled children.
In other words, they were reduced to box-ticking as a coping mechanism...
The watchword in child protection post-baby P is "authoritative". Professionals in the case of Family Q were too tolerant, timid, indecisive, and unquestioning, the report concludes. Confronted by terrible misdeeds they lacked the confidence, maturity and authoritativeness to intervene.
And yet, they seem to have had no problems actingin the Shahnaz Malik case, despite little or no evidence of any issues.

Does the 'stuck professional' hypothesis explain it all? I think the answer must be 'No'.


Mrs Erdleigh said...

I see that the NSPCC had a part to play, they were also involved with Victoria Climbie's family. Maybe a period of quiet reflection is in order before they recommence lecturing us all on the evils of smacking.

JuliaM said...

"I see that the NSPCC had a part to play..."

They do seem to get around, don't they...

You'd think a 'struggling' charity wouldn't have the funding to meddle in cases the state was (nominally) taking care of, would you?