Learn from being sacked: why I wouldn’t employ Sharon Shoesmith

Saturday, February 7th, 2009 - Employment, sacked

Learn from being sacked

The case of the death of BabyP in Haringey is both tragic and awful. The mother and her boyfriend were rightly convicted and sent to prison for what was a series of abusive actions. They are the guilty parties in the whole case.

But the choice of former Director of children’s services Sharon Shoesmith to argue the case for her defence in the media (via both the BBC and the Guardian) is terminal – for her career, and probably for any limited chance she had in winning a proposed wrongful dismissal case.

As tax payers, we provide funds for certain central services to be provided to both development and maintain the environment and the social structure in which we live. We pay for social services to provide both a safety net for those who fall on hard times or have difficulties, and to protect the vulnerable in society. The job social workers do is therefore both important on both a person by person/case by case as well as a society view point. It is a difficult job, and anyone who chooses to do it should be supported in doing something which wholly adds value to society.

But in modern times, when we put money in to public services, do we not expect value out? No one wanted BabyP to die, and no one expects Social Services to be perfect – but we do pay for and expect a standard of service.

One of the lines Shoesmith uses in her defence is:

“But if there’s a young person killed through knife crime this weekend, and I hope there isn’t, do we expect the borough commander of that London borough to resign? We don’t, we don’t.” 

No we don’t. But, if a second and a third and a fourth died, we as the public would expect an explanation as to what is going on at some point. For that we would rely on the government to assure us that the service being paid for was being provided, and to do that their normal manner is to commission a report. Ed Balls the Education Secretary commissioned such a report on Haringey post the judgement on BabyP’s death from the Ofsted:

“I sent in inspectors – the experts – to do the work. In a devastating report, they said there were real failures in management in Haringey. In the end the director of children’s services has to take responsibility.”

So, having sent in a set of independent inspectors who find systematic failings in Shoesmith’s department, she thinks Ed Balls was “breathtaking recklessness” in his handling of the affair, claiming his actions had fuelled a blame culture that had left social workers demoralised and put child safety procedures at risk.

I don’t see much taking responsibility there for failings in your own department Ms Shoesmith? That’s why I wouldn’t employ Sharon Shoesmith – she hasn’t listened and learnt. One could understand if she said “well yes, I could have done this better”  – but all we seem to get is a series of national level crisis in social work defence points, that others were doing as badly, and a resultant portrayal of herself as a media-sacrificial Joan of Arc of British social work.

There are things Ed Balls does need to address in his own department, specifically the recruitment problem into Social Work (which is a conundrum when more people now are taking social work related degrees than ever before); and why Ofsted reported Haringey as satisfactory in performance in a report less than three months after the death of BabyP. If Shoesmith had to make a statement to the media – and I think she has been legally daft to do so before any appeal against her dismissal – why not attack Balls on those issues?

Managers are supposed to manage, within the resources, the environment and the constraints given to them. They also have to take responsibility – and by not taking any responsibility for her own departments externally assessed failure, and hence not showing learning, Shoesmith is excluding herself from future employment.

As human beings, we make mistakes. But managers are supposed to learn from them, and not keep repeating them. Ms Shoesmith only accepts she failed in one way, by under estimating the media reaction to her own statements at the first press conference post the judgement. I conclude by this press interview she has still not learnt from that mistake in this poorly timed and ill judged/aimed interview.

If you make a mistake in your career, and are sacked, there are ways of handling it so that you can move on. But you have to show to any future employer that you have sat down and assessed your part in the failure, and learnt from it – particularly when its in the public domain or on public record, like Ms Shoesmith’s.

Good Luck!

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One Response to “Learn from being sacked: why I wouldn’t employ Sharon Shoesmith”

  1. Chris Says:

    I totally agree, the first step to fixing any problem is to admit that there is a problem and that you have responsibility for it.

    She couldn’t do that, and that is the real reason I personally think she was fired, not as a scapegoat, but as a obstruction in the path of progress towards a resolution of their problems.

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