Related BBC sites

Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Monday, 4 May 2009 13:18 UK
Baby P: The whole truth?

Andrew Turnell
Andrew Turnell is an international child protection expert

Solution focused brief therapy was developed in America in the 1980s as a way to help solve personal and emotional problems by concentrating on hopes for the future and working out how those might be achieved.

Ten years later, Australian brief therapist Andrew Turnell developed this technique into a rigorous risk assessment practice that could be used in child protection. He called it Signs of Safety and this method is being used in several parts of the UK as well as other countries

A pilot project using solution focused brief therapy in child protection was launched in Haringey in March, 2006, in the office where the Baby P team was based. Social workers and managers were given a two-day training course followed a month later by further instruction on risk assessment and Signs of Safety, according to information obtained by Panorama.

'Future focused'

If you're talking about the future without reference to the past, that's when it can get very dangerous in child protection work

Andrew Turnell, child protection expert

But some social workers who attended the training told the programme that they thought it was useless and did not use it when they went to visit families. Critics claim the danger is that focusing on a parent's future could mean everyone fails to see what's happening to the child right now.

In Baby P: The whole truth?, Turnell told Panorama that danger to a child must constantly be at the forefront of professional work and in Haringey he saw little evidence that was happening.

"Solution focus gives you a lot of good skills, it gives you ways of engaging with families," he told the programme. "But you must bring to the table very clearly what the problem is and you must talk very clearly with the family about the past, about harm to the child, the neglect, the maltreatment. And if you try and use solution focus without doing that, if you try and use it as a therapy, as a therapist would use it in the therapy room, it can very quickly become dangerous - particularly in high risk cases."

"If you are talking about the future without reference to the past, that's when it can get very dangerous in child protection work," said Turnell, who lectures around the world his Signs of Safety methods.

Police not told

In Haringey, a senior social work manager involved with the Baby P case used the child's mother as a subject in an academic study for a solutions focus brief therapy qualification. She even filmed the mother giving an hour-long interview during which she talked at length about the boyfriend who was later convicted of causing or allowing the death of her son.

Child protection expert Andrew Turnell on what he thinks went wrong in the care of Baby P

Yet the new man with access to Baby P was never checked out despite the fact that the child was on the at-risk register for suspected non-accidental injuries - and information was never passed to police investigating the abuse. If this had been done, it could have potentially saved his life, a retired senior homicide squad detective told the programme.

The video - which only came to light a few months ago - was never disclosed to police investigating Baby P's death and was never disclosed to the trial at the Old Bailey last autumn.


Haringey council told Panorama that solution focus brief therapy was not appropriate in this case and that the authority no longer uses it in child protection. In future, new approaches like this will be considered by an ethics committee.

The council admits there were serious failings and that improved management and record keeping will reduce the risk of further failures to capture and disclose information. There have also been fundamental changes to child protection in the borough.

The senior social worker who made the video says she did not meet Baby P and did not complete the solutions focus course. Her coursework was destroyed before Baby P died because it contained confidential information.

Panorama's Baby P: The whole truth?, Monday, 4 May on BBC One at 2030 BST.

Critical Baby P clue was missed
Sunday, 3 May 2009, 21:52 GMT |  UK
Baby P staff sacked for failings
Wednesday, 29 April 2009, 18:38 GMT |  London
Case worker wanted Baby P in care
Tuesday, 18 November 2008, 01:56 GMT |  London

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific