Laming to the slaughter.
For social workers themselves though, Baby P will continue to haunt them. Not just because they too will be fearful of receiving the same treatment that Sharon Shoesmith, Maria Ward and others were subjected to should they be unfortunate enough to also fail to prevent a child in their care from being killed, but also because of how the rattled Ed Balls turned once again to Lord Laming to produce a report on what went wrong. As Martin Kettle points out, Laming's first review after the death of Victoria Climbie made 108 recommendations. Social workers complain bitterly that Laming's report instituted the kind of bureaucracy and paperwork more associated with the police; Shoesmith in her interview with the Guardian noted that those working under her were spending up to 70% of their time in front of computers instead of working with families and children. The word "bureaucracy" doesn't feature once in Laming's report (PDF). The word "paperwork" appears once, with Laming emphasising that paperwork not being up to date shouldn't stop an application for a care or supervision order being made.
To add to those first 108 recommendations, there are another 58 in yesterday's to add to them. Balls, unsurprisingly, announced that the government would endeavour to introduce every single one. Not that the language used in Laming's report really gave them much option: flicking through the various proposals, must is used only slightly less sparingly than should. In any event, Laming's report was always a ploy to buy the government time, meant to show that something was being done. Reports and inquiries set up and turned around in such a relative short space of time are always stop-gaps, hardly likely to really help, and in some instances make things worst. They are however a vital part of modern politics: when there really should be inquiries and reports, such as into the 7/7 bombings, our involvement in extraordinary rendition and the Iraq war, they're denied. We might learn something from those; you're unlikely to learn much from Laming's report.
This top-down approach, which seems to be designed to further demoralise workers with edicts from above when they are already under such strain is destined to fail, yet the centralisation instinct continues to reign supreme despite all the negatives which have become attached to it over time. Part of the problem is undoubtedly fear on the part of politicians of losing both influence and power, but it's also because we increasingly demand ourselves that something must be done instantaneously, and that the best way to do it is to rip it up and start again. It's also the easiest thing to do, because it gives us someone to blame and ridicule, whether it be Shoesmith or Sir Fred Goodwin, enabling us to have our own watered down version of the two minutes' hate.
This isn't to dismiss all of Laming's recommendations out of hand. One of the key failings has been a lack of proper training, but this itself has not been helped by the abject failure of politicians to stand up for, support and defend social workers when they are often unfairly criticised by the press. They're either breaking up families too easily or letting parents or carers kill when it should have been obvious that something was wrong. The lack of support in the aftermath of the Baby P case was palpable, further demoralising a profession which already finds it incredibly difficult to retain staff that are overworked and dealing with some of the most intractable problems in society as a whole. The response was institutional risk aversion, taking unprecedented numbers of children in temporary state care. Laming's report will do little more than make social workers and those in charge of them jump through ever tighter hoops, while the opprobrium has not been staunched.