At Rainbow Fostering, we want more people to foster in Birmingham and this story will undoubtedly have its fallout. It was recently announced that Birmingham’s children’s services will be removed from the City Council’s control following years of scandalous revelations. A degree of inevitability must be assumed since children’s services had already been labelled a “national disgrace”. This is disappointing enough – indeed a stronger term is almost certainly merited – but is there anything much beyond being a “national disgrace”? And are there not by now so many examples of bureaucratic scandalous mismanagement that everyone’s senses have become dulled.
A different point is worth making – one made possible by this latest manifestation of national disgrace: we have here yet another example of the rather cynical and defensive reflex that is triggered at such times; apparently the announcement was rushed out because Channel 4’s flagship documentary programme ‘Dispatches’ was about to break the story. The station has reported seeing documents attesting to the fact that the news was put out ahead of the broadcast.
The programme was going to focus upon the serial mismanagement of cases where children were at serious risk of sexual or physical abuse. So, if true; and one must assume that Dispatches investigative capabilities would not have fallen at this particular hurdle, it is evidence of the usual attempt at damage limitation through news management. What is so sad is that this is the priority when what is at stake – the safety of children – becomes secondary. Would it not be proper to simply pause and simply respond on an intellectual basis. If already branded a “national disgrace”, the idea there can be any kind of exoneration just by responding ahead of a breaking story just makes a very bad situation appear even worse. And yet this kind of behaviour keeps on happening. What should happen; which would be far more seemly and, incidentally, pay proper respect to the victims, would be to reflect in a sober manner on just how things could have got as bad as they did. So what comes before any move toward information management should be to first remember seven year old Khyra Ishaq was starved to death in 2008 and two year old Keanu Williams was murdered by his father in 2011.
It is all too easy to escape into clouds of rhetoric and theoretically reassuring sound bites. And predictably this has happened – a Department of Education spokesman stating:
“Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. The Prime Minister was clear that we cannot tolerate failure in children’s services. This is why we are looking at the best next steps including moving towards a voluntary trust.”
This all sounds very worthy – a predictable response: however, we should all of us foster a different attitude to information management. We should challenge those whose first instincts are to time the release of news as a way of deflecting scrutiny.
And last year David Cameron issued a warning to local authorities that failing children’s services would be taken over by independent experts or charities. How sad it is to be cynical, but it must be remembered that our political masters – of all stripes – are equally adept at attempting to manage the timing of news when it suits them. The truth is, and the current pressures within fostering make this clear, is that resourcing lies at the heart of the problem. Organisations and responsibilities may be swapped, renamed, or amalgamated but they are still run by human beings. When caseloads reach impossible levels, people become demoralised. When there is not enough money in the system, it simply cannot do its job and meet our collective expectations.
The sad fact remains as an NSPCC spokesman www.nspcc.org.uk said “Young people have ultimately been the ones to suffer most from the pitiful failures in children’s services at Birmingham City Council. A lack of consistency in the support offered to children has meant a breakdown of trust in the very system which was supposed to be their lifeline”.
At Rainbow Fostering we aim to play our part in keeping the momentum going for the Fostering Network’s annual campaign ‘Time to Foster, Time to Care’. Over 9,000 foster families are still needed across the UK. If you have been considering fostering, now is the time to find out more about what is involved. If you are already a foster carer, perhaps you know someone who might be interested in following your example: put them in touch with us and you could be helping some very deserving children. And If any of our foster carers carers recommend a friend to foster we will pay you £500 as our way of saying thank you (T’s & C’s apply).
The additional content on our company Facebook is reaching increasing numbers of people.
Proving of interest are our regular ‘Rainbow Reading Recommendations’: suggestions to keep our foster carer’s children entertained; and of course improving their reading skills. Take a look!