Leading Article: Where the buck stops

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The full facts surrounding the prolonged ill-treatment and death of Baby P, while under the – clearly inadequate – protection of Haringey social services, must await the results of the two inquiries now set up. But enough has emerged to prompt serious disquiet, not just about this appalling case, and not just about procedures at Haringey, but about the fractured relations between the individuals and institutions involved, and between local and national government. In a matter of days, the tragedy of a single child has come to represent the failures of a whole system.

The disclosure that a social worker dismissed by the council "blew the whistle" to ministers on what she said were breaches of child protection procedures in Haringey is a key development. Of course, aggrieved employees may have an interest in discrediting their former employer, and government ministers receive enormous amounts of correspondence. But in this case, the social worker concerned had taken the trouble to send her letter to government ministers via her solicitor. That the council went so far as to take out an injunction to prevent her speaking, and the fact that her letter concerned Haringey – and specifically the measures put in place to prevent any repetition of the Victoria Climbié case in 2000 – should surely have rung all manner of alarms.

It is indicative, too, that the letter went to several ministers at the Department of Health, was then – rightly – passed to the Department for Education (which deals with child protection), and thence made its way to the watchdog, the Commission for Social Care Inspection. This showed complexity, if not outright confusion, about whose responsibility such matters really are, eliciting the standard complaints of buck-passing.

The truth is, though, that no one needed to pass the buck, because the system as it has evolved – as with so many aspects of care services – entails such a fluctuating combination of council hierarchies, agencies, government ministers and inspectorates that it is hard even for those inside the system to identify the chain of responsibility. This is a scandalous situation, which is as worthy of investigation as the failure of a case worker, a doctor and a whole social services department, to save the life of Baby P.