Thursday, 11 March 2010

What happens when professionals get stuck?

The staff were competent, experienced and qualified and they acted in good faith, but they were 'stuck'. This was the claim of Professor Pat Cantrill, who chaired the Serious Case Review into the appalling 25 years-old case of incest by a father with his two daughters. This case of dereliction takes some beating – a dereliction of leadership, not just of parenting and social work.

It comes as no surprise that an implied belief in competence, experience and qualifications proved to be insufficient. Or that the social workers became stuck. What is more concerning was what was happening to and in the system in which they worked. It was said to have developed a wholly inadequate culture of “having a quiet word”, where “informal, unwritten information was passed between services.” How did this come about? How did they get away with it?

Services, such as child care and protection, are delivered to the public by functioning systems, not by individuals. The power of individuals alone is puny, however competent, experienced, qualified and well-intentioned. Only the system within which they work and try to perform at their best can surround them with an appropriate structure – including purpose, support, accountability, supervision and leadership.

So where was leadership of the system? Was it asleep? For 25 years!