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HARINGEY LBC ACCEPTS ITS RESPONSIBILITIES AS FIRST CHAPTER OF VICTORIA CLIMBIE INQUIRY CLOSES

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Haringey LBC made the following key points in its closing submission at the end of Part One of the Public Inquiry i...
Haringey LBC made the following key points in its closing submission at the end of Part One of the Public Inquiry into the death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie:

Haringey Council accepts its share of responsibility for the failings in the child protection system in Victoria's case, as it publicly has done since the murder trial in January 2000.

It once more publicly apologised to Victoria Climbie's family for the mistakes it made.

The council accepts that it should be held to account, that it made mistakes and it does not seek to avoid criticism.

In particular, it admits the following mistakes in dealing with Victoria's case:

-- Those responsible for supervision not familiarising themselves with the relevant case files;

-- Those responsible for allocation or closure of case files not reading them before doing so;

Counsel for Haringey, Elizabeth Lawson, said that if the Inquiry finds that Victoria's case had been allocated by 'just placing the file on the social worker's desk' and if it finds that her case was 'allocated without assessment of the suitability of the social worker', it would not seek to defend this.

At the time of Victoria's referral, Haringey social services was dealing with 4,000 referrals a year, of which about 400 were child protection cases. Victoria's case should be seen in this context.

Ms Lawson told the Inquiry social workers were not used to dealing with people such as Victoria's great-aunt, Kouao who gave a plausible but completely false account of her and of Victoria's history and circumstances.

She said: 'The staff of any agency providing services to members of the public, work on the basis that they are being given a truthful account of the history or relevant facts until something is said or done by the person they are dealing with which casts doubt on that. Social workers are used to challenging deception, for example about how injuries are caused to a child. They are not used to dealing with wholesale deception which includes fictitious personal details like being the mother of a child who is not hers.'

She added: 'Haringey rejects on behalf of its staff that they were given clear evidence by others of non-accidental injury or serious neglect of Victoria which they failed to investigate or act upon.

'Had Haringey been given clear medical evidence which stated that either the burns or the other injuries to Victoria were not accidental, there is every reason to believe that Victoria's case would have been conducted differently. They were not.'

Ms Lawson said Haringey did not accept that Victoria's frontline social worker lacked the competence or experience to deal with Victoria's case when it was allocated to her. She was universally regarded as a 'very good, competent and conscientious social worker,' she said.

She said the picture of evidence about her line manager was 'more complex' and would need to be looked at carefully by the Inquiry.

Ms Lawson said social services' level of spending wasnot a significant factor in Victoria's case as she had an allocated social worker and was never denied a facility because of a lack of resources. Nor had her social worker suggested that any failure to investigate or assess the case more fully was due to her not having enough time. Haringey, however, recognises that her social worker's case load was 'high'.

Ms Lawson said Haringey, like many boroughs facing high levels of poverty, had to take tough spending decisions. She said:

'Other social needs, if ignored can lead to deaths or have an adverse impact on children. If it spends less on refuse collection what about disease? If it spends less on libraries or swimming pools or parks who suffers? If it spends less on roads and street lighting so that there are more accidents, who suffers? If it spends less on housing, who suffers? If it spends less on its adult mental health and community care services or on its drug dependency programmes or its care for the elderly, their families as well as the individuals suffer. Children live in those families. What other tragedies might we investigate if those commitments were not maintained?'

While not seeking to deflect criticism from itself, Haringey LBC also criticised aspects of the Inquiry process which it believes may make it harder to learn fully all the lessons.

Ms Lawson said:

'The atmosphere of blame and criticism in which the witnesses have given evidence means that this Inquiry has lost the opportunity to allow those actually involved in doing the job at all levels to offer their reflections in an atmosphere of open-minded inquiry on what might have made a difference or how practice might be improved.'

She added: 'We would do children like Victoria no favours if we demonise entire professions as we seek to understand and remedy the weaknesses and deficiencies highlighted by a single case.'

Haringey outlined a series of improvements it has made to its services since Victoria's death. These include:

-- Improved staffing

-- Improved training, particularly for new relatively inexperienced social workers

-- A social worker development programme

-- Improved relationships with other agencies and strengthening of the Area Child

Protection Committee

-- More for childrens social services this year and next.

Ms Lawson concluded:

'Haringey recognises that it is not enough just to say that it is sorry for its part in a system that failed Victoria. Out of the reflection and heart searching which has followed Victoria's death has come a renewed determination to improve children services to all the children in Haringey and a hope that this Inquiry can assist in that task.'

Anne Bristow, the director of social services said after the closing statement:

'We have always welcomed this Inquiry and we have always expected to face strong criticism by it at all levels. The important thing now is to try to learn the lessons and move on - so that out of this tragedy we can build services of whichwe are truly proud. I and all my dedicated staff are determined to do that.'

Councillor Takki Sulaiman, lead member for social services said:

'We hope that the Inquiry will maintain a sense of balance in the criticisms we know it will rightly make of us. The good work of social workers needs to be recognised and set in the context of their every day job in a busy department protecting hundreds of children every year.

'We have already made many improvements to our childrens services but our goal is to be among the best in the country. We are on our way but there is much still to be done. We owe it to all Haringey children to succeed.'

The full text of Haringey's closing summary is available on the Inquiry websiteunder the section marked evidence, transcripts, February 19, pp31-71.

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