Our children need care and protection from abuse. The question is whether the responsible bureaucracies give value for money, or indeed provide that care and protection at all. Following each scandal, we are told that no one is to blame: the problem is systemic. Then we are told that the bureaucracies will work better together in the future. Then history repeats itself. Rotherham should be a wake up call. In fact, the problem really is systemic and it needs a systemic solution. It is not a question of money. From 2001 to 2010 English and Welsh councils’ child social care expenditure nearly doubled from £4.7bn to £8.6bn at 2010 prices (while the number of under 15s fell slightly). Would anyone suggest that the quality and extent of childcare has doubled?
Of course the problem is hugely complex and there is no single, simple solution but surely one factor is the excess of bodies paddling in the same swamp: Local Authority children’s services, schools, doctors and hospitals, police and charities such as Barnardo’s and the NSPCC. Each case is like Gerard Hoffnung’s performance by solo violin and massed conductors.
Serious child abuse of any form is a crime. Where a teacher, doctor or any social worker believes that a crime may have been committed, or may still be in progress, then that should be reported to the police like any other possible crime. The police should investigate without fear, favour, concerns for being branded racist or other politically correct excuses for doing nothing – or passing the buck to social services.
The bigger question is then whether children’s services are necessary at all. If the current Local Authority bureaucracies did not exist, what would we put in their place?
Rotherham demands a systemic solution and that in turn suggests we start with a blank page.
Clearly we need the youth justice system and adoption facilities alongside those offered by the voluntary sector (e.g. Barnardo’s). But Local Authorities’ manifest incompetence in adoption suggests maybe that should be turned over to the voluntary sector and perhaps arrangements for fostering too.
If taxpayer value would be improved, as it is being for schools, by channelling taxpayer funding through the voluntary sector, then why not? Equally well if something like the existing services can be radically rebuilt to give our children the protection they need, then so be it. But if we just go on tinkering and adding more boxes to tick, more Rotherhams could follow.