Tuesday, 10 November 2009

In praise of the 'violence prevention industry’

I just want to stand up and acknowledge, thank and salute every single dedicated and hard-working person in what I like to refer to as ‘the violence prevention industry’ – that is the holistic bunch comprising 3rd sector (community groups and charities), public sector, private sector, parents, peers and citizens.  See below (excuse my lame graphics, and ignore the headings in the picture: I want to thank ~everyone~):

Why thank them? Because I’ve never seen anyone else thank them - and believe it or not they are making a big difference, so they shouldn’t forget to feel proud from time to time.

Riding home on my bike dodging nutters in white vans (and even bigger nutters on other bikes...), it occurred to me that a strange thing has been happening inside my head (no, not the voices). The more time I spend examining and trying to understand horrific violence, the better I feel! And the reason is this – by going to various meetings and conferences, by reading threads and articles, by talking to people in the industry, it has slowly dawned on me how massive the prevention industry really is, and how amazing and selflessly dedicated so many of the people inside it really are.

Ordinary folk who could easily earn more money elsewhere, giving up days and nights and very often putting themselves in danger (including heroes like Simon: http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/4717105.WALTHAMSTOW__Youth_worker_stabbed_while_protecting_teens_from_gang/ ), in a thankless industry where negligent media vultures sit on their arses waiting for someone to drop the ball so they can be crucified in public.

I can only begin to imagine what the violence levels might be if none of these people were working to reduce them.  The country is suspended in an intricate yin vs. yang equilibrium and these people are the positive half!  So for what it’s worth, I salute you people in the industry, even though I’m a nobody!

But what about all the failures??
‘Now hold on’ I hear you cry. What about the idiots who let baby P die, what about the cretins who failed probation duties on kids who went on to kill?

Well I’ve got a thought for you: how would YOU fancy their job mmm?  Do you know exactly what happened and how the failure came about? Are you quite sure you’d have done it better in their boots? Do you know how many lives those same idiots have saved? I saw a nice quote on facebook the other day, some character said “never judge a man until you have walked one mile in his moccasins” or something like that.

The thankless agony of prevention
I’ve spent 10 years in an industry where a large part of any company is a bunch of folks whose job it is to prevent IT systems ‘going bang’. When IT systems go bang in the city, someone - who was using the system at the time it went bang - loses money or loses the opportunity to make some (same difference).

When prevention systems go bang in the safeguarding industry, a child can die.

And trust me, those city IT systems go bang a lot, despite the 'best efforts' of the folks paid £50-200K to keep the things running. I have studied so many incident post-mortems I have lost count. I ran a team of people whose job it was to stop the systems from going bang.  And still the blasted things went bang and boy did it wind me up.
But once I sorted out most of the straightforward reasons for repeat incidents, I noticed that the worst incidents were the ones where, as I used to say, ‘all the planets lined up’. It was seldom just one thing, it was typically 2 or three at the same time, and very hard to predict... and crucially the worst incidents normally featured one of the staff doing something with the best of intentions in the heat of the moment, that actually made it worse. Well-intentioned but human staff, a bit short on training here, a bit short on sleep there, a bit short on motivation here.  Often it was a genuinely new situation where people had to think on their feet - and got it wrong that time.

OK but you have got a point – there are always some bad eggs in the basket.  There are the wisecracks who don't follow the paper procedure because they 'know it all'.  There are those who are plain lazy, those who are so unscrupulous that as long as they don't get the sack they genuinely seem not to care what horrors they cause or fail to prevent.  I have no time or respect for them, but I have even less respect for their managers who earn more than them and allow the rot to spread and stay, unless it's the manager's manager making life impossible.  And so on.

But should the occasional bad egg and the occasional inadvertent failure mean the ENTIRE INDUSTRY is condemned in the press and over a pint and at the dinner parties?  No I don't think so.

Take social workers - try to imagine how utterly depressing it must be to work in an industry in the 21st century that has to perform ‘triage’ on small children – knowingly allowing certain children to come to some harm in order to save scarce resource for the children who are in credible, provable, mortal danger (read point 3.11 on p32 of this report to see what I’m talking about: http://publications.everychildmatters.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/HC-330.pdf). Think Kate Bekinsale outside the hospital with a pen, in “Pearl Harbour”. It’s not fun, playing God.

And try to imagine how difficult it must be to recruit staff into the industry when hardly anyone bothers to thank you but the rest queue up to throw rotten vegetables. How do you motivate the staff when the best they can hope for is a pat on the back from their line manager - and even then only if the manager is smart enough to realise that if he doesn’t praise them no-one else will. If you think about it, the agony of prevention is totally obvious: YOU CAN’T COUNT HOW MANY TIMES SOMETHING BAD DOES NOT HAPPEN.  Also, typically only one person gets blamed for a failure but small armies queue up to take credit for a success.

I laugh till I wee, at the thought of the press headlines we'll never see (ooo that rhymes!):

- "Boy in care since age 3 gets 5 GCSEs at grade A-C"
- "Poor performing local authority has 50% fewer safeguarding cockups than last year"
- "Girl who was beaten every week is taken into a foster family"

But this is all fantastic news.  Apparently it's a free market economy and the press only print bad news because we buy it.  But where is the good news newspaper that we can defect to?  exactly.  Anyway I'll back off the press for now, I'll maul them properly another time.

I'll stop now but will post another blog on 'prevention' soon that I hope to deliver as a talk one day.  It draws parallels with the IT incident prevention industry and explores the incendiary notion of an 'acceptable' level of violence...

So getting back to the point, I raise my cup of tea, in thanks and admiration, to all the soldiers on the front line of violence prevention: thank you one and all (but shame fall hard on the bad eggs - it's time to change your tune before karma catches up with you).