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Tick box culture and a dispersal of responsibility

Interesting for me in watching the Rotherham child sex scandal unfold is how council officers, councillors and other individuals disseminate from any sense of responsibility or accountability for their actions or failure to act.

The process of deaing with issues such as child protection, abuse accusations and investigations, has become as functional a process as everything else in modern life. Functionalism – where a system is set up to supposedly extend accountability, making sure no one falls through the net, ensuring processes and procedures are followed; is now the barrier to anything actually being done.

Of course, one cannot blame the system alone. There was some pro-active measures taken to intimidate and silence critics – police threatening families, raids on support

organisation, the disappearance of key evidence within 24 hours of being collected, for example.

But within organisations there now exists a tick-box culture where the human, individual element is decidedly absent. Witness for example how no council officers have never (yet) faced investigation for their action or lack thereof in the exploitation case in Rotherham. There are endless meetings where concerns are raised, forms are filled in, data is logged… and then nothing happens.

And sometime later, when the consequence of inaction becomes evident, all of those involved are able to turn around and say “I did my job” or “I did my part” or “I filled in my form and notified such and such” and “The system failed.”

“The system failed.”

Those three words have become the most commonly used get out clause in organisations where micro-management has become ever more prevalent but the taking of responsibility has disappeared off of the agenda.

Ironically – and this may cause some controversy – I feel part of this came about after the Climbie Report and the changes brought in after the Soham murders. Public outcry led to such strict and stringent controls being brought in in the areas of child protection, with new processes and systems to check, report and log incidents of concern, that any sense of perspective or human thought was effectively removed. Now, don’t misunderstand (deliberately or otherwise) my words – I think changes were need to child protection post-Soham and after Victoria Climbie’s death.
But a need for coherence, consistency and certainty in decision making drove the creation of a management technique that has actually removed the individual from the process and reduced the role of talented, educated specialists to that of pen pushers, technicians who feel their job is to simply following a manual and the tenets of the latest training course they’ve been on.
In my time working in education I’ve seen this all too often. My wife, who also works in education, particularly in special needs, has too. It starts with a concern being raised, for example’s sake, about a child and possibly neglect at home. The complaint is taken to the necessary person, in this case a Child Protection Officer. From their it is then elevated. Statements are recorded. Forms are filled in. Meetings are had.

Nowhere along this chain of events is anyone actually responsible for dealing with the issue.

But plenty of people talk, in minuted conversations. Plenty of paper is expended. Information is logged. “We’re all responsible” becomes the new catchphrase and suddenly the process, the system is more important.

So long as we’re “doing the system” the individuals within it don’t matter anymore even if they are who the system is there for in the first place!

It’s almost as if the system has been set up to disperse responsibility so thinly that no one is responsible. It exists to protect itself and the people within it.

And maybe that is why those covering up the scandal were able to do so for so long. They were doing the function of their jobs and leaving out any human – dare I say the much maligned phrase “common sense” – decision making because they would’ve upset certain people and wouldn’t have been able to justify it.