Rochdale, the mantra of ‘choice’ and a culture of blame that shames us all………..

The Guardian reports on the catalogue of failure across 17 agencies that allowed the unthinkable to occur in Rochdale. The fact that so many agencies failed suggests this is not just about individuals, it’s also about systems and something much bigger….us, society today and what we value.

Coming from a social work background I’m not surprised at the failure of multiple agencies to work together effectively to safeguard vulnerable children. A colleague and I wrote a paper a couple of years ago around decision-making in a multi-agency context, this paper came about because of our despair at how agencies failed to work together to safeguard those most vulnerable in society. Whilst one might assume multi-agency decision-making is safer this is not always the case. Professionals have to be aware of the dynamics of group decision-making.

Mullins (2007) found that instead of groups taking fewer risks by making ‘‘safer’’ decisions the opposite is often the case. Studies suggest that group members, often under pressure to conform, will take higher risks than they would take individually. It is suggested individuals do not feel the same sense of responsibility for decisions made when in groups. This is sometimes evident when a multi-agency meeting advocate ‘‘doing nothing’’; this type of behaviour in decision-making is referred to as the ‘risky shift’.

However, beyond the policies and procedures that should guide good practice there is a far more important element which is often underestimated, that of ‘culture’. By this I mean the organisational culture that seems to disempower intelligent and caring professionals from doing what would clearly be the right thing to do. For example at some stage within many of the organisations involved in this case ‘child prostitution’ and ‘choice’ were conjoined to provide some kind of rationale for not acting. It is hard for me to imagine how the words ‘child’, ‘prostitution’ and ‘choice’ can exist together without individuals feeling shocked, but that did happen and we have to ask how did we get to this point?

Of course there is much more to this than mentioned above, if my opinion were sought I’d suggest re-visiting Eileen Munros recommendations, embed them in practice, then evaluate them to move forward again…but then what do I know!

I hope professionals reading the report will be shocked, horrified, angered-anything that elicits an emotional reaction, so that blaming the victims never happens again.

About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

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