The “horrifying death” of Baby Peter in August 2007 was the result of the incompetence of authority staff and serious failures of sharing simple records, according to two reports released today.
Baby Peter, also called Baby P by authorities in Haringey where he lived, died aged one, after months of abuse. The newly-released reports lay blame on the “incompetent” and “inadequate” actions and information of social workers, the police and doctors, who between them had seen him 60 times over the course of his short life yet failed to link data and identify a pattern of abuse.
The reports highlighted a serious over-dependence on bureaucratic processes and meeting performance targets set out in a new IT system, which was not flexible enough for staff needs and in some cases hampered the sharing of information. This contributed to a failure of co-ordination between the different authorities and the failure to identify the source of Baby P’s injuries.
The Integrated Children’s System, introduced with the aim of setting clear processes and reminders for case workers, was almost doubling the administrative load for case workers. This, according to the report, left staff grappling with data entry instead of being able to focus on all the necessary child protection steps.
“Social workers considered that the amount of administrative support to them had decreased over the years, and the introduction of the new case recording system, Framework I [a version of ICS used at Haringey], had been responsible for many new administrative tasks,” one report stated.
“The caseload of the social worker responsible for leading on the child protection plan for [Baby Peter] had almost doubled from January 2007 to July 2007,” said the report. That case load was also “50 percent above” what had been recommended by a separate report into the death of Victoria Climbie, a tragic death that occurred seven years earlier as the result of authorities failing to share information.
The report stated that one social worker involved “described her caseload as made up of various ‘types of case and categories of registration’ and that ‘it was a lot of work’ and that she ‘never had time to do everything’” even though both workers “were regarded as well qualified” for the “complexity of the case”.
At times the ICS system was “unhelpful” because it limited “the opportunity for information to be recorded in an analytical way”, the reports said.
A source familiar with the ICS system, which was mandated by Whitehall for all local councils, told Computerworld UK the system continues to cause “a huge amount of unnecessary work” for social workers.
“For a long time, the government and local officials were being told to listen to social workers and what they needed,” the source explained. “But they didn’t.”
While the government has finally begun to reduce some of the complications of the system, the source said, it would take a long time “before the changes work through” to the ground level. “They’re still totally swamped in data. Instead of solving a case there is a pressure to keep up to date on reams of data.”
Haringey Council had not commented at the time of writing on steps it was taking to improve the systems. Councillor Lorna Reith, cabinet member for children at Haringey, said the council “accepted that things went badly wrong with our child protection services”.
It has been the council’s “top priority”, she said, “to bring about substantial change and improvement to children’s safeguarding in the borough”.
The Department for Education, which now manages children's services, said ICS was a "useful tool" in helping case work. But a spokesperson added that it worked better and took up less time where local authorities had clearly addressed the needs identified by their social workers.
Another system, called ContactPoint, was introduced following the death of Victoria Climbie to hold key information on children and their social workers and schools. The coalition government in spring announced it would scrap the system over privacy concerns, but is now reconsidering creating a similar system with "less data", the DfE said.