Issue 306: 2021 12 23: Caring about children

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23 December 2021

Diary of a Corbynista

Caring about children

by Don Urquhart

Mug shot of Don Urquhart

Whatever your religion it is hard not to be moved by the story of a young couple arriving late at night in a town where hospitality is limited.  She’s heavily pregnant but landlords are unsympathetic.  It seems like the whole place is in lockdown.  There’s not even a homeless hostel.  So into a barn and she gives birth in difficult circumstances, presumably starting off with slow pants, then push Mary push you’re doing wonderfully darling.  I love Call the Midwife.

You’ve got a lovely baby boy.  O look Dr Turner what’s that gold ring round his head.  Nothing to worry about I’ve called in three specialists with the finance and unguents.

It is a fabulous story ending in seasonal joy, although not allied to the business success so essential in the Christmas movies.  Bit of a shame because there were all the ingredients to go viral.  I suppose in her way Mary has been a potent influencer but it’s all the blokes in vestments and pointy hats who have monetised her.

A few years later in a land many miles away we discover that yet another child has been murdered by the adults who were supposed to be looking after her.

Here is Patrick Butler’s Guardian article about the death of Star Hobson.

Social work department had been struggling for years, was deluged with work and had huge staff turnover

But Star’s death is unlikely to be the last of its kind to emerge from lockdown, and Bradford is not the only council struggling to keep its child protection department afloat and working effectively. There will be wider questions too about cuts, about the erosion of family support services, and the legacy of a decade of austerity.

It’s not a new thing.

In 2007 Ed Balls was the Minister responsible for protecting children and threw Sharon Shoesmith, head of Haringey Children’s Services to the wolves over the Baby P scandal.    Since then I have not been able to look on him as a decent politician or as a jolly TV personality.  Ms Shoesmith subsequently received a 6 figure sum in compensation for unfair dismissal by Mr Balls.

Then and now Social Services are massively underfunded.  This is what politicians are talking about when they say we must keep schools open for the wellbeing of the children.  The underlying message is that many children have a miserable home life and are much safer and happier at school.

A teacher told me recently of a 12 year old refusing to go home with her mother who had turned up at the school gates with her drinking buddy.  She categorically hates the idea of going home.

It’s not a new thing.

Clare in the Community has been running for 17 years on the radio.  The central character is a sanctimonious social worker in the totally dysfunctional Sparrowhawk Centre.

It is laugh out loud funny but has a serious message about the inadequacy of the service.

I remember being horrified by Channel 4 Dispatches in 2009

They put a new employee into Surrey Social Services with a hidden camera.  He was immediately assigned difficult cases which he was not qualified to deal with.  And the office had low morale – the social worker sitting there munching a huge bag of crisps telling the new guy that she hated visiting customers because she came back smelling of urine. The manager who was full of I know, I know.  For every hour spent with a customer they spent 4 hours filling out forms.  So the process was poor, the morale shot to pieces and the service virtually non-existent.

Since then the child protection budgets have been shredded.  It’s not that we don’t care about vulnerable children.  They just come nowhere in our priorities as we made clear at the ballot box in 2019.

Johnson was as honest about Levelling Up as he was about everything else and the big difference now is that he doesn’t even talk a good game.

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