A normal quiet morning, Friday 27th May 2011, was broken by the sensational news that Sharon Shoesmith, ex-Director of Education and Children Services at Haringey Council, had won her appeal for unfair dismissal v London Borough of Haringey.
To many people this might have seemed a somewhat perverse verdict on the woman who ran the Education and Social Services directorate at LB Haringey, the borough in which Baby P met his slow and prolonged death via long-term physical abuse by his parents.
However, in my view, from a purely procedural, employment perspective, as an employee of the Councial, albit a very senior one, it appears to me that Sharon Shoesmith was a clear victim of unfair dismissal. A victim of Ed Balls MP, former Children’s Secretary, decision to dismiss her on live TV; not getting a fair hearing by her employer and general trial by media, an immature media in my view, who always seek a scapegoat in such stories, but often overlook the real guilty parties, the true culprits, in this case, the murderous parents and careless, uncaring Social Workers and medical professionals who overlooked her injuries and failed to take correct action to protect Baby P in the face of clear and obvious sustained physical abuse.
All employees, be they Administration Assistants or Directors have a right to a fair hearing, regardless of the severity of the disciplinary issue. That didn’t happen hear and for that reason Sharon won her case.
Furthermore, I would say at the level of Director, with tiers of staff below her, such as a Head of Social Services, Assistant Head of Social Services, Principal Social Worker and Senior Social Workers, it is highly unlikely she would have been overly aware of the case of Baby P. As she said on 27th May in interviews, there were 55 serious at risk cases in the year Baby P died, so why was this the one she took the blame for? Where is the consistency? Babies unfortunately are being abused, abused to death in cases, all over the country, but we’re not seeing other Directors of Social Services being dismissed.
As someone who has worked as a HR Consultant and actually worked for LB Haringey, indeed at one stage working for Haringey Personnel for Sharon Shoesmith (pre-Baby P, I must state), I was invited to speak on this very subject on the morning the story broke on the James O’Brien LBC 97.3FM radio show and on Eddie Nestor’s drivetime show on BBC Radio London 94.9FM.
I think the wider lessons here are that of the need for better monitoring of child protection cases, recruitment of more social workers (I fully realise they are understaffed nationally and the removal of a child from it’s family is one of the biggest decisions a Social Worker, a local authority can make and of course is not taken lightly); a greater use of common sense and compassion from those in this profession … something that’s all too lacking from the caring professions these days if you follow the Southern Cross Homes care homes scandal featured on Panorama, 29th May 2011 and the appalling stories of care, or rather lack of care and compassion shown to some elderly patients in the NHS.