Letters: Social Services and Child Protection

Bureaucracy will never save abused children
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The Independent Online

Having worked for 20 years as a social worker with children and families, and also brought up four children, part of the time as a single parent, I thoroughly agree with David Cameron that Haringey Social Services Department should be shut down like a failed school (report, 12 November). Nor is Lord Laming the right person to advise on its failure, in view of the failure of his previous recommendations; bureaucratic changes were never going to save children's lives.

Qualifications currently required for the job should be ignored, and instead mature people employed who either are parents themselves or have substantial experience in the practical everyday care of children and the problems involved in it.

The Certificate of Qualification in Social Work should be drastically reformed and emphasis placed on face-to-face work with children and training in how to spot signs of distress.

I would make one bureaucratic change: put a colourful marker on the case-papers of all children identified as being at risk, and require such children to be seen, without clothes, on each visit. Parents would have to accept this as a condition of keeping their child.

Further, "at risk" parents would have to accept training in childcare, household management and cooking (hopefully given in a friendly and encouraging spirit). A staff of experienced, probably part-time, mothers would be employed to do this. In my experience, inadequate young parents welcome such help, provided it is given in the right spirit.

Dorothy Forbes


The question to be asked in the case of Baby P is not about funding or staffing (leading article, 14 November). Agencies in Haringey were apparently well enough funded and staffed to visit Baby P 60 times – not just one or two social workers who could be blamed for negligence, but police and health workers too.

The question is, what was it about Baby P and his mother that caused all those different people to assume that all his injuries were accidental, when in other cases social services have been accused of over-reacting on far less evidence? Was this a one-off example of visitors being misled by a clever, manipulative criminal, or is there a more systemic attitude that might cause social workers to be deceived in other cases?

John Stanning

Winchester, Hampshire

No one to tell the Prince he is wrong

No one who saw the television documentary "Charles at 60: the Passionate Prince" could doubt the sincerity of the heir to the throne in addressing the wide range of national and local matters he habitually "meddles in" (his words).

The drawback is that the policies he proposes on issues such as the future of the countryside are too often based on very superficial knowledge and are therefore over-simplistic, if not plain wrong. The fundamental reason for this lies in the deferential, not to say sycophantic attitude of too many of the people he is trying to influence, whether businessmen, bureaucrats or TV documentary makers. While the prestige of the monarchy enables him to convene earnest seminars of the great and the good, it apparently deters them from telling him straight when his ideas are rubbish.

If the BBC had had the guts to make a real documentary rather than hagiography, we might have seen Charles subjected to proper questioning and real analysis of what he's achieved. Where was Humphrys when he was needed?

Frank Broughton

Brompton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire

Most of my colleagues (except possibly for PE and Outdoor Pursuits staff) in a lifetime of teaching in secondary, further and higher education would have considered themselves intellectuals – at least in terms of the old Soviet distinction between workers, peasants and intellectuals.

Very few of them, however, would have considered themselves to have been favoured with "an exceptional and distinguished intellect" (Michael Rosenthal, Letters, 14 November) and on reflection most of them would probably acknowledge, if somewhat grudgingly, that the Prince of Wales as an individual has made a greater contribution, both intellectually and practically, to our society than they did. The trouble is that whatever one thinks about the monarchy in principle, the chap so often turns out to be right.

David Burton

Wellington, Shropshire

The furore over Prince Charles's expressed intention to be known as "defender of faith" baffles classicists. Latin has no definite article, and so the title Henry VIII received originally from the Pope – fidei defensor – can legitimately be translated both as "defender of the faith" and as "defender of faith".



Now that Prince Charles is 60, he is entitled to a bus pass. Has he been told? Will we see him on the No 14? Time to sell the Aston, old boy.

Peter Henshaw

Sherborne, Dorset

The patriotism of an immigrant

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's piece "You can't force patriotism on a people" (10 November) is flawed. Loyalty to one's country cannot be negotiable. Once you become a citizen of a country it is incumbent upon you to identify with the country. Minorities everywhere have to make a special effort to join the national mainstream.

Yasmin claims: "We will withhold that kiss if the state disappoints." This implies that a democratically elected government should shape its policies in such a way that it never offends the minority. This is an untenable position which will do the minorities no good. This country gave thousands of refugees like me and Yasmin an opportunity to settle and prosper. That for me is enough to be a patriotic citizen.

Thousands like me feel that the time has come to stop playing the victim.

Nitin Mehta

Croydon, Surrey

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown thinks that popular patriotism can rule OK provided it is left to its own devices. If only things were that simple! It is precisely because no one can be forced to love their country that patriotism is such a contested concept.

The debate in the USA about who or what it takes to be a "true American" ran like a thread through the presidential campaign. For some Obama supporters, to protest against the war in Iraq and even to burn the American flag was a patriotic duty, because the founding ideals of the nation were being betrayed by the Bush administration. For many Republicans, such acts were profoundly "unamerican".

Both groups acted out of "love of country"; it is just that the country each had in mind was a different kind of place. When Obama talked about the United States he meant an inclusive political community in which African, Hispanic and Asian Americans had a major role. When Sarah Palin said "God bless America" she just meant people like herself.

Phil Cohen

University of East London

Duke Ellington at the Palladium

One of the achievements of Harvey G Cohen's fine piece on Duke Ellington's visit to Great Britain and Europe in 1933 (13 November) was to emphasise the impact the Duke and his musicians had in the English provinces. One example of this, now held in the Library of Leeds College of Music, is a chalk portrait of Ellington drawn during the tour in 1933 by the celebrated Ukrainian-born, Leeds-based artist Jacob Kramer.

Cohen was however wise to focus on Ellington's remarkable two-week appearance at the London Palladium, when men fell to their knees and girls wept. To conform to existing regulations affecting foreign artists the Orchestra, as it was billed, performed as part of a long variety show including jugglers, acrobats and the comedian Max Miller. Ellington was not averse to this arrangement and his Palladium sequence included Bessie Dudley "the snakehips girl" and the tap-dancers Bailey and Derby.

To draw lines of demarcation at that time between jazz and popular music, or entertainment generally, was nigh impossible since they were in Humphrey Lyttelton's phrase "blurred to the point of invisibility".

Dr Ralph Willett

Sherborne, Dorset

Support our troops by telling the truth

One can only heartily concur with Barack Obama, cited by M Hurley (Letters, 13 November), that when, as in Afghanistan: "we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to . . . shade the truth about why they're going."

And who better to turn to than the British Ambassador to that country, who recently noted (in private, of course) that the only realistic outlook for Afghanistan is the installation of "an acceptable dictator" within five or 10 years, and that public opinion should be primed for this?

After all, who could fail to "support the troops" in such a glorious endeavour?

Andrea Needham


In his review of Gordon Brown's latest book, Wartime Courage (Arts & Books, 7 November), Boyd Tonkin notes that "Brown scarcely pauses to reflect on the ethics of the 'area bombing' that flattened German cities and incinerated civilians".

As Chancellor, Brown happily bank-rolled wars in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghan-istan, all of which have relied heavily on aerial bombing, and Britain's bombing of Iraq actually surged dramatically following his accession to the premiership.

Two independent surveys have concluded that scores of thousands – and possibly more than 100,000 – Iraqis have been killed by aerial bombardment since the 2003 invasion.

Little wonder then that, as Boyd Tonkin observes, "there is still no room on the PM's map of courage for the principled dissent of a figure such as George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who attacked the 'barbarism' of Bomber Command's strategy." Brown has too much blood on his own hands.

Gabriel Carlyle

Hastings, East Sussex

John Hutton (Podium, 12 November) says that the dead of the First World War died to preserve our democratic freedoms and liberty in general, at a time when the United Kingdom had almost the most restrictive franchise in Europe. He went on to say that those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan have died for the same high ideals.

Would it be unfair to ask whether it is equally erroneous to see the current conflicts as being fought to defend our real democratic interests as was the case in the undemocratic, aristocratic and class-ridden Great Britain of 1914?

Simon Sedgwick-Jell


Zero-tolerance head

With all due respect to the "zero tolerance" head teacher (report, 11 November) Caroline Haynes, much evidence suggests that it is slow learners who get punished, from caning to expulsions. A little less certitude, Mrs Haynes.

Patricia Hall

Yarm, middlesbrough

Orphan choir

I read with utter dismay your report on the probable cancellation of the tour by the Ugandan Aids orphan choir (14 November). I have only two questions. What has this country become? What type of people have we become? We seem to be more interested in creating a nanny state than helping the thousand of orphans in Uganda.

G Rodden

Guildford, surrey

Colour confusion

Gyles Cooper's letter (12 November) raised a smile from me as I've recently come across the same issue. An acquaintance tells a story of how he was in New York with his girlfriend when he became separated from her in a department store. My acquaintance asked the (black) security guard if he had seen her and provided a description, including that she was black. The guard responded that, "We don't say black, sir, we say African American". To which my acquaintance could only reply, "Erm, she's from Fij."

Simon Robinson

London SE21

Obama's name

As Barack Obama and his Kenyan father were namesakes, their shared given name (letter, 14 November) is likely to be a derivative of the Swahili word baraka, which means roughly "blessing", and like many Swahili words, is of Arabic origin. In the Swahili admonitory rhyming jingle "Haraka, haraka, hana Baraka", haraka means "haste", so it's the equivalent of our "More haste, less speed" platitude.

Peter Kellett

Kinlochewe, Ross-shire

Dog in the manger

Why have a bee in your bonnet about the elephant in the room (letter, 13 November)? It is not a fly in the ointment of the English language but fits as snug as a bug in a rug. If you don't like it, don't use it. Please send future correspondents away with a flea in their ear.

Euan Cartwright

Hayton, Cumbria