Thursday, 29 August 2013

#telltheirsories #ifyoucanttelltheirname part 2

A development yesterday late afternoon as the county Council released this over twitter
Although they have released a timetable for disclosure it now seems that it's now six children that have died :-(
Given the protracted period of the disclosure that will take place the earliest of which seems to be the end of October, you have to wonder if this total of dead children will rise before the learning takes place.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

#telltheirstories #ifyoucanttelltheirname

Northamptonshire County Council has had it's third successive "inadequate" grading published. Whilst it's been badged as inadequate, five children have died in County Council care and despite this no serious case review has been published. The last two of the children who died did so during the second "inadequate" Ofsted inspection.
Here is the only news story that has been published about the deaths. Published in March there has been no update on this.
Council staff tell me that they are concerned about the situation with many qualified staff leaving and being replaced with unqualified staff and agency staff.
The Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Paul Blantern wrote to the children's social care staff on Friday stating:
"...Ofsted have commented positively in their report on many aspects of the work that we are doing:

· We are better at engaging and listening to the voice of the child
· We have strong leadership, both politically and corporately
· There is a vigorous recruitment plan in place, with a commitment to filling vacancies
· Our children’s homes are either good or excellent
· Our decisions on whether or not a child should be in care is appropriate
So while we know we are inadequate – and indeed, that was the rating we were expecting - I believe we now have everything in place to start making real improvements.

This is against a background of ongoing challenges in terms of demand on the service. Since the release of the Child Protection inspection report we have had a significant increase in the number of children that we need to provide a service to.

Since March, there has been a 30% increase in referrals to children’s social care, the number of children on child protection plans has increased by 17% and the number of looked after children has increased steadily. The number of children identified as ‘in need’ has increased from 4500 to 5300 – an almost 20% increase."
Given the concerns about understaffing  and an over-zealousness to snatch something positive from the from the third inadequate rating in a row it really makes you question whether the reality of the task at hand has hit home.
Heather Smith, Deputy Leader of the County Council, emphatically assures us that the issue had never been about money. The Liberal Democrat leader urges for extra funds out of the budgets from other Council Services to tackle the situation.
Closer scrutiny of the new Children's Social Care Structure shows a high proportion of Senior Practitioner vacancies and those which are vacant occupied by a high proportion of agency staff (some of whom earn over £36 per hour) and some teams having proportions of newly qualified social workers of over 60%. During budget negotiation, terms and conditions for Northamptonshire County Council staff were altered, making conditions of service in the authority some of the worst in the Country. Whereas every other authority has been recruiting on nationally negotiated pay, terms and conditions, Northamptonshire County Council has been recruiting with the equivalent of  one hand tied behind their back with a set of working conditions that no other authority have. Prospective staff with be right to view offers of employment suspiciously. Other directives have been issued to staff which state that there will be times when they will not be able to complete activity as required by professional standards in their contracted time and this will have to be undertaken outside their contracted hours. Essentially working for free. Is this really the way to get the best people to pull the service out of this hole?
Thirteen years ago in the same authority a child went missing in Council care (Sarah Benford) and there was nationwide publicity about this.
Now that five children have died and it seems that no one wants to know. I've been in contact with three different press representatives over the course of today and it does seem that those five children are dead and forgotten. With the clamour for no increases in Council Tax it really does seem that the children simply don't matter. Is this because we don't care any more about this. Or is it that whilst they remain faceless and nameless it's OK not to care. Whilst the serious case reviews are not published ... that's the way it'll stay.

Over the weekend I suggested that people who did care and wanted to show that they care could perhaps make a statement ... perhaps through twitter using the hashtag

Sunday, 4 August 2013

What is it that matters and how is it we make a difference

There are a few key news reports today that have really got to me.

This afternoon news of the report written by the coroner ofthe inquest into Jimmy Mubenga who died whilst being deported by the actions of G4 staff. Karen Monaghan raised a number of concerns not least of which were,

• Evidence of "pervasive racism" among G4S detention custody officers who were tasked with removing detainees;

• Fears that these racist attitudes – and "loutish, laddish behaviour … Inappropriate language, and peer pressure" – are still common among escort guards today;

Secondly was the news that when three officers are found to have been guilty of misconduct after falsifying records relating to pregnant Lindsay Wallace being strip searched and left handcuffed for 11 hours,  no one lost their job. Following the incident Lindsay was rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean and now her daughter, Charna is now suffering from developmental delays after being born ten weeks early.

Lastly was the news that no one will face any actions for the collapse of the San José mine in the Atacama desert, 500 miles north of in the capital, Santiago in which 33 men were imprisoned for 69 days.

All three of these stories smack of huge individuals costs for the victims but no/minimal consequences for those who should be responsible. They also smack of corruption and working cultures and practices where there is no humanity and the human costs of such activity are expendable commodities. Perhaps it is my parents influence and their belief that the prevalence of corruption was something that they associated with the country they left (India) rather than the country where they settled (England). However it seems all that has changed. For whatever reason, sick practices that abuse people are more visible than ever but it hasn't stopped them happening. Slowly it does seem that there is more public outrage. The question is whether even that will make a difference.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Zero Hours Contracts


"What are zero hours contracts?" asked someone at the Northampton Borough Council Diverse Communities Forum.

Despite the media storm over the past couple of days, it still seem that people don't necessarily notice how badly exploited those desperate for work can get.

Where I work zero hours contracts have been an issue to giving advice on discrimination for the past four years or so. In the past if a company offered work but said that they couldn't commit to how many hours they could give, applicants would perhaps take the role but look for something a lot better pretty quick. With little availability of fixed hours for people with little skills or little experience in particular in retail, service and logistics zero hours contracts are the only option for many. For those on benefits it presents a descent into revising and re-revising claims that can take weeks to process leaving a trail of debts and payday loans along the way. It offers no security and presents a situation where employees are hanging on a string.

My daughter worked for Sport Direct on a zero hours contract last year. Assigned a 6am to 10am shift, she was often asked to stay until 4pm or 6pm at in the evening. People feel obliged to say yes because they fear the work drying up. This will always place people with caring responsibilities or those disabled people who need more flexible working environments for them at a disadvantage.

Most crucially, zero hours contracts can hide a multitude of poor employer behaviour. A few weeks ago Magda and her husband Chris came into the office. Magda worked for a company that provided cleaner for local hotels. When Magda applied for and got her job, both she and Chris were pleased that it wasn't agency work and that it came with a written contract. Magda had a history of ill health and so had asked for lighter duties as reasonable adjustment which her manager agreed to. Every week Magda would get a call advising her of the shifts that she should undertake. Although lighter duties were given in the first few weeks, after a while Magda found herself being asked to do more and more heavy work, until one day she fell ill after her shift. She was taken to hospital where she was told that she had suffered a miscarriage. Although, she didn't know that she was pregnant this came as a big emotional blow to Magda and Chris. Chris called her manager and told him what had happened and re-stated his wife's need for light duties. It was agreed that Madga should be assigned to a different hotel where this was possible. She was working with a new team and after a few days another member of staff came into a room where she was cleaning and said that the rest of the team had noticed that she was only being given light duties and felt that she was being treated this way because she was Ukrainian. The woman that said this to Magda was White British and she said that the other team members would be setting up a campaign to get her out. Magda went into another room and called her manager who told her not to worry and that he would sort it out. Magda left her shift that day upset about what had happened. Then suddenly, she no longer received calls advising her of the hours to work. When Magda asked her manager about this he just advised that there was no more work for her. Magda and Chris came to Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council for advice and brought in the Magda's contract. They read thorough the contract and said, that surely something could be done as it didn't state that it was a zero hours contract. However since it didn't state any hour in the contract there was not obligation for her employer to give her hours given that she was not given the same consistent number of hours over a period of time.

It's clear in this situation and in many others that we have seen that zero hours contracts is a key safeguard to employer who either wish to discriminate or support others who discriminate as happened with Magda.

Magda and Chris's names have been changed to protect their confidentiality.