Baby P chief warns of risk to teachers in child abuse

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Haringey former head of children's services says school staff, too, could face media and public vilification

Heads and teachers are at risk of being vilified by the public and media in child abuse cases, disgraced former children's services boss Sharon Shoesmith warned last week.

Haringey's former head of children's services claimed that "dreadful" funding cuts to town halls will result in more child deaths at the hands of their parents and close families.

Ms Shoesmith, who lost her job following the death in 2007 of Peter Connelly - known as Baby P - said her career had been ruined by a media witch-hunt, political pressure and a "flagrant breach of the rules of natural justice".

Giving her first national public speech since she was dismissed in 2008, Ms Shoesmith told the North of England Education Conference in Blackpool that changes had to be made to accountability.

Ms Shoesmith said it was "unbelievable" that no one stood up for her during the "storm" that followed the death of Baby P - except for Haringey headteachers - and she warned conference delegates that they too could face a similar situation unless changes are made.

"If accountability stays as it is, it will not only be children that are at risk but all frontline staff - teachers and headteachers are also at risk," Ms Shoesmith said.

"Apart from me, four social workers directly involved are all living with threats and vilification."

She added: "One social worker has had to move four times with her children. Today they virtually live in hiding. Colleagues, this is wrong."

Ms Shoesmith also warned delegates that more vulnerable children will die at the hands of their parents and other family members as a result of funding cuts.

All of the good work that had taken place since her dismissal will be undone due to a "dreadful" financial settlement for town halls.

According to Ms Shoesmith, the number of children in care in the UK has risen from 60,000 to 80,000 since the Baby Peter case, and the number of children at risk will grow.

"Child poverty will rise. I think everyone now expects that these cuts are going to hit hard on vulnerable children," she said.

"It all does translate into higher risk for children, the risk of more children dying at the hands of their desperate parents," she added.

Ms Shoesmith, who was given a standing ovation by conference delegates, said the murder of Peter Connelly was something she was forced to live with every day.

She has since launched an appeal against a High Court ruling, which rejected her claim that she was unfairly sacked.

FALL-OUT - BALLS ACCUSED

Sharon Shoesmith used her first public speech since being sacked to launch a scathing attack on former schools secretary Ed Balls, who ordered that she be removed from her post.

The Baby P tragedy became "politicised and personalised", she said, with the "simple narrative of 'remove the director of children's services and all will be well' going unchallenged".

Ms Shoesmith accused Mr Balls of wanting to "bask in the sun" during the aftermath of the Baby Peter case, adding that he positioned himself with "the more lurid headlines".

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