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Tuesday, August 11, 2009 

The banality of evil.

At long last, the monsters and the evil monsters and the monster evils have been exposed to the public view. As long as these monstrous evil people were hidden behind evil monstrous legal diktats the public could not see the faces of these evil monsters and so know personally the evil monstrous acts which these monstrously evil monsters committed. The real evil however is that these evil monsters could be released in just a few short years, and even more outrageous, have their evilly monstrous faces hidden by more monstrous legal diktats designed to protect them from decent mums who only wish to torture these evil monsters to death, as is their legal right and which will protect all other decent people from being menaced ever again by these evil monsters. Who could possibly defend these evil monsters having their evil identities changed?

The only real reason to welcome the publication of the identities of the mother of Baby P and her boyfriend, both convicted of either causing or allowing his death, is that it finally takes the attention away from the social workers who acted in their absence as outrage fodder. It often seemed to be forgotten, as Sharon Shoesmith herself said, that the real blame lay with those who actually caused his death, not those that failed, however inadequately, to prevent it. Some individuals are simply determined to harm children, as it seems one of the brothers convicted in this instance was. Much remains unknown, despite newspaper accounts, of what really happened in that house in Haringey: just why his mother allowed her child to be abused and in certain circumstances lied and covered up the signs that he had been. The judge found that she was manipulative and self-centred, which she almost certainly was; that doesn't however even begin to explain why.

"Evil" really doesn't come much more banal than in this instance. All three of those involved, while hardly oil paintings, are not instantly repugnant to look at. All three were very ordinary strange people, all with backgrounds which should have rang alarm bills from the beginning, but which also were hardly remarkable. The case itself and the circumstances of Peter Connelly's death, while undoubtedly appalling and heart-rending, are again far from unusual. The Guardian points out a remarkably similar case, in which the father of 16-month-old Amy Howson broke her spine in two places, but which attracted almost no wide attention. In this instance, what seems to have set it out from the crowd was that it happened in Haringey, the same London borough where Victoria Climbie died, and that because of another case in which they were involved, as well as the need to find places for Connelly's other children with foster parents, the two main accused were anonymous.

If there were any positives to be taken from the widespread coverage of the case, some of the vitriol and hatred poured out might be easier to take. Yet if anything that very vitriol, the vast majority of it without even the slightest insight behind it, has put children who are at risk in even more danger. Everyone was shocked, shocked, when it turned out that Haringey's performance hadn't improved when it had last audited. The main deficiencies? Excessive case loads and a shortage of social workers. Who, after all, would possibly want to work in Haringey now, unless they've got a taste for masochism when both Sharon Shoesmith and Maria Ward considered suicide after they were named as the "bunglers" who failed to save Baby P? Then there was Lord Laming's report, the same Lord whose first report after Victoria Climbie's death is blamed for introducing the kind of punishing bureaucracy and audit culture which keeps social workers at their computers instead of actually visiting those on their books. His latest attempt introduced another 58 recommendations. Social work can be an incredibly rewarding job, but when you're expected to save every child at risk while alternatively being condemned for breaking up families it's also one which is next to impossible. When asked to protect the innocent from evil, it might just help to understand a little more and condemn a little less. That however has never sold newspapers, especially when there's evil to be reported upon.

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While there will never be any shortage of 'monsters' and stupid people in the world, it doesn't hurt to recall that there was a several decade effort to reverse government intervention in child care because systemic corruption turned 'social responsibility' into state care which was then outsourced most efficiently into workhouses. That was the warning of 'Oliver Twist'. Sometimes there really is no relaible cure for social ills : not in a world of greed and corruption, anyway.

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