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Saturday 3 January 2004

UNISON calls for 'critical debate' on O'Brien Inquiry

UNISON's Edinburgh branch is calling for a public debate on the growing concerns about aspects of the O'Brien Inquiry Report into the death of baby Caleb Ness.

"It is now time for a critical debate. Many people across the profession are beginning to raise concerns about this Inquiry and the dangers of it being used to remodel child protection services", said John Stevenson, secretary of UNISON's Edinburgh Branch which is planning a conference on the issue in the New Year.

"As people have had the time to examine the report in detail, away from the emotion of the moment, it becomes clearer that the City of Edinburgh Council should have taken a moment's pause before responding.

"While the report addresses fundamental issues, there are some flaws in its understanding, analysis of evidence and conclusions. It is of course crucial that lessons are learned. But they must be learned from a solid base of evidence", he added.

UNISON's concerns centre on contradictions in the report, dubious conclusions from some of the evidence, inaccuracies and a lack of understanding or recognition of the law covering child protection. UNISON says that the report even contradicts itself on child protection guidelines.

For example, the report has reduced the people available to chair child protection case conferences by almost a third by saying with no reasons, that Senior Practitioners should not do this job.

"We have lost the services of some of our most skilled and experienced staff which has increased the already huge pressures on other senior staff and on the child protection case conference system", said John Stevenson.

The union is also concerned about the effect this 'flawed' inquiry will have on staff attitudes towards future inquiries.

"Staff were urged strongly by the Inquiry not to bring legal representation and so none did. They attended voluntarily with a genuine wish to help but then many faced unfounded criticism and immoderate comments in a report which at times borders on sensationalism. In these circumstances, it would be hard to advise anyone to voluntarily assist any similar inquiry in the future. Unlike Orkney and the Victoria Climbie reports, this report has potentially damaged future inquiry processes.

"It is essential that there is a wide debate on the enquiry across professions and politics and that will be the purpose of the conference", added John Stevenson.


Note to Editors: The full UNISON Edinburgh Branch initial response to the Inquiry can be seen at http://www.unison-edinburgh.org.uk/socialwork/obrien.html

For Further Information Please Contact: John Stevenson, Edinburgh Branch Secretary 07876 795 018(m) Lyn Williams, Edinburgh Branch Social Work Convenor, 07939 983 663(m) Chris Bartter (Scottish Communications Officer) 0771 558 3729(m)