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Feedback about Sharon Shoesmith on Woman's Hour

Tuesday 10 February 2009, 10:39

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

Thank you for these richly informative thoughts and comments. Some of them reveal significant expertise and personal experience.

The programme has received over 350 emails so far about the interview. Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be discussion on Woman's Hour about the nature of management responsibility - one of the central themes of the exchanges between Jenni Murray and Sharon Shoesmith. How much is it reasonable for us to expect senior management to know (in any sphere of public life), and when is it really fair for someone to lose their job?

A small number of people (fingers of one hand) complained to the BBC about the programme - suggesting that we should not have run the interview at all - and that in doing so we had given Sharon Shoesmith a platform. I am always a little baffled by this sort of complaint. The interview tested a lot of key arguments about the case - and in a way that did not simply allow Ms. Shoesmith to say whatever she wanted. It did allow her ample time to answer Jenni's tough questions. It's the sort of thing that we should do.

UPDATE: Jill Burridge, the editor of Woman's Hour appeared on Feedback this week to discuss the interview. (Jem Stone - host)

"Murray pressed her on everything, hard but courteously, exploring the lines between perception and reality, blame and responsibility." Gillian Reynolds' review of the programme from the Telegraph,
Listen to the interview in full

Comments

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    Comment number 1.

    At last Sharon Shoesmith has been given an opportunity to tell her side of the Baby P tragedy. She came across as a strong, thoughtful leader. She did not seem angry towards those that sat back and fuelled her downfall. I sadly suspect that Sharon has been treated so badly because she is a strong woman, not because of her management skills.

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    Comment number 2.

    Dear TheBrick13 - I should say first that I am on of Sharon's daughters. I wanted to thank you for your comments, for demonstrating some humanity which has been so lacking throughout this. I do not think I could ever have been so calm, strong and capable as she was, but this was no surprise to me. The last point you raise is a very interesting one, which has been at the back of my mind throughout this. It's the kind of thing that women see but wonder if we should say. I personally suspect that had she been a man, 'arrogance' would have been perceived as 'strength'. Food for thought!

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    Comment number 3.

    I think that social workers do a difficult job, Mark, and I think that accountability is sometimes difficult to pin down.

    I also think that we have something of a blame culture, where, confronted by a difficult issue, and in this particular case, a tragedy, we look for someone to 'blame'.

    There may, in reality, be no one person accountable. There is both an individual and a collective failure, and we all share in that failure.

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    Comment number 4.

    I would have liked Woman's Hour to have explored the issue of 'Women' in top positions. This was a missed opportunity.

    In this particular situation, I am sure that the attacks on Sharon Shoesmith were more virulent because of her gender. Having read some of the worst, sickening comments of contributors in the Sun and on places such as Facebook, this is a theme. They talk of her being 'cold' or 'uncaring'. I don't remember such personal attacks by this on any other Directors of CYPS. Because our society equates caring and nurturing with women, and mothers, I wonder whether women in management positions are more likely to be pilloried like this when things go wrong.

    Interesting that when she comes over as 'strong' some people equate this as 'uncaring' or not accepting responsibility. On the contrary, she stood strong to defend the front-line workers. She has refused to blame and scapegoat staff further down the management structure than herself. This would have been an easy, and familiar route for a manager. She stood by the social workers, and tried to explain the situation to the media. Clearly this failed, but I think it shows great principle that she did back her staff.

    Those of us who have worked for her know how deeply she is committed to every child in Haringey, and to supporting all her staff. She may not come over that way in the media but we know of her care and commitment.

    I am still at a loss as to why she has been singled out in this way, when there are many other Directors who have had children die on their watch.

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    Comment number 5.

    I would hesitate before saying that this was necessarily a 'sexist' issue.

    Anyone in Sharon Shoesmith's position would have found such a situation 'challenging', and whether Sharon's gender made a difference, I am not sure. Plenty of men, I guess, would also have found themselves in big trouble.

    People sometimes say that it's tough at the top. This is not necessarily true. It can be just as tough, if not tougher, at the bottom, although the nature of the challenges may be completely different.

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    Comment number 6.

    Jenni Murray Rocks !!

    From a male fan of Woman's Hour...

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    Comment number 7.

    I have commented at length elsewhere but am interested by the way that Sharon has been treated and completely agree that there has been an element of sexism.

    There has also been some cowardice from Ed Balls who could not possibly sack every CYPS director who had a child die on their watch. A minister who responded to tabloid hysteria should lose his job because he responded to the way she wasn't considered to be sorry enough or look sad enough.

    We have now all heard how Sharon felt inside, that there were times she considered suicide, and we all know that outward presentation can belie our internal emotional landscape.

    What gave the story its heart was a photograph of a very appealing little boy. Pretty children get more publicity and how shallow of Ed Balls to depose someone whose experience and commitment is of such immense value to her department based on a tabloid agenda?

    I also think it is great that Sharon has children who phone R4 and comment here. She would have found all of this harder without you I am sure.

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    Comment number 8.

    A little message to HelenSparkles: Thank you, it's easy to feel helpless when the media creates such false perceptions of one's mother - that photo of Sharon is purposefully manipulative - she is not frowing but blinking. My mum is famous amongst my friends for being serious fun and hilarious. She's also damn serious too when she needs to be. She will always be my role model, I am proud of how she's coped these last few months, I would have lost it with the crowds of abusive papparazzi months ago. In fact my partner nearly did. Anyway, thanks again. Miss Shoesmith

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    Comment number 9.

    Thank you for your message misshoesmith, it is just a shame that Ed Balls hasn't got any... Hope you see this before it is deleted by the moderator!

 

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