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‘Solution Focused Therapy’ is only the worst of the delusions in the Baby P case

Rod Liddle says that the insane therapeutic methods used by Haringey Social Services typify the ideological determination of these ‘experts’ to accentuate the ‘positive’ and ignore social reality

6 May 2009

12:00 AM

6 May 2009

12:00 AM

Rod Liddle says that the insane therapeutic methods used by Haringey Social Services typify the ideological determination of these ‘experts’ to accentuate the ‘positive’ and ignore social reality

The Baby P case is still howling around us all, another gale of reproof hammering at the shutters of our liberal indulgence and at our fathomless respect for experts and institutions. We might all have harboured the suspicion that social workers were, in the main, absolutely useless, driven by an outdated and discredited discipline and ideology (that’s sociology and multiculturalism), and not especially bright. But it took Sharon Shoesmith, who was the boss of Haringey Social Services when Baby P was murdered, to drive home the point. Her absolute lack of contrition and blank-faced refusal to take responsibility for either the failed policies or serial incompetence of her staff showed you most of what you need to know about how our social services are run.

You are left with two choices: either Sharon Shoesmith’s team was a singularity, a terrible exception to the norm, and all of our other councils do things much better. Or she and Haringey are absolutely typical and the same sort of incompetence is happening right now up and down the country. Shoesmith’s utter mystification and anger at her sacking suggest to me the latter; she thinks she has been a victim in all of this, a victim in need of support, and by and large her professional colleagues agree with her. Perhaps we should apply to Sharon the approach utilised by her department, presumably at her instruction: ‘Solution Focused Brief Therapy’, an American invention of fabulously witless provenance. In short, this approach deliberately ignores how useless Sharon has been in the past and even how useless she is now, but concentrates on how the client (i.e., in this case, Sharon) would like to be in the future. In other words it avoids a ‘problem focused narrative’ — i.e. a narrative concerned with serial incompetence and failed policies — and focuses instead upon a sunlit upland of flopsy bunnies and other serial delusions.


How would you like things to be better in future, Sharon? It was this philosophy — Solution Focused Brief Therapy — which, according to another excellent BBC Panorama programme, Haringey social services used in their dealings with the benighted mother of poor Baby P. The fact that she was a shockingly bad mother, neglectful and prone to shacking up with violent maniacs, was thus largely ignored, and instead the people charged with the care of Baby P concentrated on what her mother sort of hoped for, in a rather vague sense, in the future. What a fantastically stupid form of ‘therapy’ — and yet it seems also to be the logical conclusion of social services ideology, which is to be non-judgmental and to disavow personal responsibility, especially where single mothers are concerned. Even before we got to Solution Focused Brief Therapy, the baby’s mum had been serially indulged by the council (and thus, by proxy, by you and me). Ever larger accommodation and never for one moment the suggestion that she shouldn’t have children she couldn’t afford to keep nor, indeed, possessed the instinct to look after.

The two most pressing problems with our social services right now are a) that they do not successfully identify young children who are in extreme danger of being maimed by their parents and b) remove too many children who are in no danger at all from their parents and shove them in care homes where their lives will be, more often than not, ruined. A simplistic explanation might be that trenchant criticism of social services regarding point a) leads to the overzealousness of point b). But that is too pat and convenient an excuse; in both cases our social workers would rather cleave to an ideology than use common sense and intelligence. In the second point, they are aided and abetted by the NSPCC, which seems to wish every child in the country to be taken into care because none of us comes up to the social and political standards which it has decided must be the norm.

In both cases the social services are encouraged by successive government policies which have offered clear financial benefits to single mothers and thus to the predatory ‘stepfathers’ who live in their nice flats for a while before scooting off somewhere else.

An awful lot of work carried out by social workers at the state’s expense was once voluntarily undertaken by the extended family at no cost to the taxpayer whatsoever. But the traditional family unit has been viewed with grave suspicion by both government and social services departments for 30 years or more now. There isn’t room here to list the enormous financial incentives given to those young women who wish to bring up children ‘on their own’ (i.e., supported by the rest of us) as opposed to those who wish for a stable marriage and family — Patricia Morgan’s excellent book The War Between The State and the Family will do all of that for you. Add to those extremely lucrative financial incentives the removal of societal stigma for being a one-parent family and you have a pretty persuasive argument for not getting married, for not subscribing to what was once the norm.

And then we come to the doctors, the top doctors. Baby P died a very short while after having been checked out by a top paediatrician, Dr Sabah Al-Zayyat. Sabah thought the kid was ok, pretty much — just a bit ‘cranky’ and ‘bad-tempered’, goddammit. I suppose we might all be a bit cranky and bad-tempered if we were a) suffering from a broken back and b) eight smashed ribs c) covered in scabs from being hit d) missing the top of a finger, and if we e) had various scalp infections caused by serial neglect. Just how fantastically useless do you have to be as a doctor not to notice a broken back? Isn’t it there in the manuals somewhere? Dr Sabah is not allowed to work with children unsupervised right now. Why is she still in an extremely well-paid job?

As I say, a little after this, Baby P finally succumbed, having clung on to life through 17 months of the most horrendous torture at the hands of his ‘stepfather’, whose hobby was collecting Nazi memorabilia and mutilating animals. His mum’s hobby was trawling the internet for pornography — there’s lots of it out there, so that would be quite time consuming, I suppose. No judgment passed on these predilections, of course. Hell, who are we to judge?


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