LSE professor Eileen Munro has signalled a new approach on child protection with an interim report for the Government which focuses on helping children, rather than on the regulations, inspections and procedures that have thrown the system out of balance.
The report for the Department for Education examines the areas of the child protection system where reform needs to take place. Currently the amount of prescription and bureaucracy in the system has meant that social workers are not able to do the jobs they came into the profession to do.
The report highlights the importance of having multi-agency services based in the community to help keep children safe and support their wellbeing, identify the children and families most in need and give them help as early as possible.
In the interim report the areas for reform include:
The importance of a management and inspection process that monitors whether children are getting the help they need, rather than being a tick box exercise.
Developing social work expertise by keeping experienced, more senior social workers on the front line so they can develop their skills and better supervise more junior social workers.
Giving other professionals -health, police and family support services -easier access to social work advice when they have concerns about abuse and neglect.
Revising and reducing the statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children, which is now 55 times longer than it was in 1974, so that core rules are separated from professional advice.
Considering having a national system of trained reviewers of serious case reviews (SCRs), who can share findings so that lessons can be learnt nationally.
Professor Munro, from LSE's Department of Social Policy, said: 'Too often questions are asked if rules and procedures have been met but not whether this has helped children. Everyone in the profession can think of meetings and forms that don't actually make a child safer.
'Whilst some regulation is needed, we need to reduce it to a small, manageable size. Professionals should be spending more time with children, asking how they feel, whether they understand why the social worker is involved in their family, and finding out what they want to happen.
'Placing a timescale on completing a form puts pressure on professionals which can distract from making decent quality judgements. We now have more knowledge about the kind of parenting that really harms children. Assessments should be skilled enough to distinguish between the families most in need and the parents who are struggling and just need a bit of help, possibly not from social workers.
'Child protection is not an easy job. I now need to work with professionals to develop more precisely how my ideas will work in practice. Ultimately this is about helping them to do their job better, more confidently, and with more support so that children are protected more successfully.'
Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: 'Professor Munro has identified areas where professionals' time is being wasted and children's needs are not being properly identified. I welcome her approach to getting help to the neediest children and families as early as possible, and recognising that child protection is not just the responsibility of social workers. I look forward to receiving her final recommendations in the spring.'
In her interim report Professor Munro identifies that too much time and effort is being spent by all the professionals working in child protection preparing for inspections, and meeting the bureaucratic requirements for Ofsted evaluations of SCRs. This has meant that too often SCRs have not offered enough analysis of why things have gone wrong and the lessons that can be learnt.
At this mid-stage Professor Munro is clear that this needs to change and is therefore recommending:
Ofsted no longer evaluate serious case reviews, with external scrutiny provided by publishing all SCR overview reports, and
Moving from announced and unannounced inspections to unannounced inspections only, that cover all children's services and take into account the quality of learning provided by SCRs.
In the next stage of the review Professor Munro wants to test out how to give front line social workers greater autonomy so they can better exercise their professional judgment. The Secretary of State for Education is considering using his powers to grant five local authorities temporary suspension of certain aspects of statutory guidance, subject to conditions.
Social workers in Cumbria, Knowsley, Westminster, Hackney and Gateshead would be able to complete certain assessments and hold child protection conferences within timescales that they think would best meet children's needs. The trials would be rigorously monitored to ensure the safety and welfare of children, and to minimise delays.
The trial would last beyond the period of the Munro Review, and evidence available at the end of the period would be considered by the Department when responding to Professor Munro's final report.
Notes to editors:
The second interim report 'The Munro Review of Child Protection: Interim Report, The Child's Journey' is published today at www.education.gov.uk/munroreview
Professor Munro review will be asking each profession within the sector to work with the review to develop the reforms discussed in the report.
The Review was announced on 10 June 2010. Professor Munro is due to submit her final report in April 2011.
The review has been informed by a call for evidence which ran throughout July this year. Over 450 individuals/organisations submitted more than 1000 pieces of evidence to the review. Responses were received from those with a wide variety of expertise including social workers, children, young people, families, local authorities, health professionals, the police, and lawyers.
1 February 2011