History is repeating itself with the reaction to the killing of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes
Ray Jones explains how social workers and children’s services are being set up to take the blame for the blame for the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, echoing the political and media reaction to the 2007 killing of ‘Baby P’ and ignoring the systematic defunding and fragmenting of the social work profession.
The awful torturing and killing of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes is absolutely shocking and has created anger and outrage for us all. But, as before, much of the media and many politicians have turned their anger onto those who spend their working lives seeking to help families and when necessary to protect children.
Once again, it is social workers and children’s social services placed centre stage for vilification. The press and politicians have referred back almost 15 years to the killing of Peter Connelly. What they seem not to know, or at least not to acknowledge, is the impact their false, erroneous and indeed mischievous shaping of the ‘Baby P story’ has had on children’s social services.
There has been a tremendous expansion in child protection investigations, surveillance and monitoring of families, making it more difficult amidst what Eileen Munro called the haystack which has been made bigger to spot the children who need urgent attention. It has trumped help for children and struggling families. It has been compounded by the opportunity of the greedy bankers-created financial crisis in 2008 to pursue the politically-chosen imposition of austerity with social security cuts increasing and intensifying poverty for children and cutting back on the services to assist families.
Two reflections on the here-we-go-again actions of the press and politicians. First, they must have something not available to the rest of us and whatever they have they do not share with us. Government ministers must have crystal balls and aids to reading tea leaves which allow them to perfectly see the future. They are sure that it is possible to prevent the horrific abuse and killing of all children. It will and must never happen again. Is it that they have tremendous intelligence or is it that they are lacking integrity as they claim that all terrible tragedies can be prevented? Is wishful thinking trumping wisdom?
Second thought. Will the awful death of Arthur be used to promote what the government has already set out as its agenda, albeit with little opposition recently from Labour?
Since 2010 the explicit intention has been to wind back public services and to push forward on privatisation. The government has also moved forward on fragmenting the social work profession, moving the education of children’s social workers away from universities and into a stand-alone company, and with the government seeking to define and control who can be social workers, what should be within their education and training, and what they should do.
Michael Gove is the current Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. This was formerly the department for local government but local government has not only been wiped out of the department’s title but it is also being wiped out by funding cuts. It was when Mr Gove was Secretary of State for Education in 2014 that the ground was prepared through changes in statutory regulations to move children’s social services to a commercial marketplace. It was Mr Gove who told social workers they were too concerned about poverty and the impact of deprivation.
A bit of history. It was the killing of Dennis O’Neil which was symbolically used to promote the 1948 Children Act, but it was already an Act in preparation before Dennis died. In 1973 it was the death of Maria Colwell and the subsequent inquiry which was used to justify the 1975 and 1976 legislation promoting permanence for children in care and adoption, but this was already in preparation prior to the Maria Colwell inquiry. It was the inquiry following children being identified in Cleveland as sexually abused which has been claimed to have generated the 1989 Children Act, but the roots of the legislation were in a law review and research prior to the Cleveland Inquiry. And the 2004 Children Act has been seen as a consequence of the Victoria Climbie inquiry. Not so, it was already being shaped through New Labour’s ‘Every Child Matters’ and joined-up services agendas.
So it would not be novel or new if the killing of Arthur and the subsequent press and political targeting of social workers and local authority children’s social services were used to promote what has already been in preparation. History has been known to repeat itself.
Ray Jones is emeritus professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and a social worker and former director of social services. He is the author of ‘The Story of Baby P: Setting the Record Straight’ (Policy Press 2017), ‘In Whose Interest? The Privatisation of Child Protection and Social Work’ (Policy Press, 2019), and ‘A History of the Personal Social Services in England’ (Palgrave 2020).
£38,210 - £42,607 (+£4k new joiner package)
Most popular articles today