More children taken into care due to 'Baby P effect', says Shoesmith

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The Independent Online

The former head of Haringey children's services, Sharon Shoesmith, has condemned "naive" politicians for unwittingly creating a "Baby P effect" which has seen hundreds more children being taken into care.

In her first public speaking appearance since she was removed from her post, Ms Shoesmith told a conference in London of her regret and distress over the death of Peter Connelly, who was just 17 months old and on Haringey's child protection register when he was killed at the hands of his mother, her lover and her lodger in August 2007. An inquiry subsequently blamed social workers, doctors and police officers for failing to protect the toddler.

Ms Shoesmith warned that the "Baby P effect" has resulted in many more children being taken into care or made subject of a child protection plan, at huge cost – but despite this, there had been no decrease in the number of children killed by their parents.

She told the conference: "It wasn't the 'Baby P effect' in my mind; it was the impact of the reaction of politicians and other senior leaders – were they really so naive?

"In the 10 months into 2009 we had 56 deaths – more than in the year Peter Connelly died. We still have the same rate of child homicide at the hands of their parents that has been with us for more than 30 years."

Ms Shoesmith warned ministers in the new Government that plans to publish the full Serious Case Review inquiries into child deaths could backfire, arguing that it was likely to send child protection workers "running for cover" to avoid blame.

Ms Shoesmith was removed from her post by the then Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, in December 2008 at the height of public pressure over who was to blame for the failure to protect Baby P, and was subsequently sacked by Haringey council.

In April she failed to have her dismissal quashed at judicial review but is understood to have lodged an appeal. She has also registered a separate claim for unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal.

Ms Shoesmith, who was criticised for her apparent lack of contrition when the first inquiry into Peter's death was published in November 2008, also gave an apology for what happened.

She said: "I want to say one important thing about the past; what happened to Peter Connelly was devastating and I can tell you that there was never any doubt about how sorry and distressed I was about his brutal murder whilst I was director of one of the services that was there to protect him."

She paid tribute to social workers who have had to handle the added pressures of working in child protection in recent months. She warned that unless steps are taken to ensure social workers, police, health visitors and doctors work together better, social workers will continue to be blamed whenever tragedies occur.

She said: "We will have a world where there is give and take – where social workers give their all and the only thing left to take is the blame."

The Government has promised that all serious case reviews will be published in full. Currently, only abridged summaries are made public. Ms Shoesmith warned that fear of blame would make safeguarding agencies more reluctant to investigate what had gone wrong when a child death occurred.

"What we know is that when things go wrong agencies run for cover – that's the grubby reality – an uncomfortable truth. The publication of serious case reviews might make them run even faster or might simply obscure the truth from the start. Some agencies have more protection than others and social workers find themselves at the bottom of everyone's heap."