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LSE expert responds to child protection report

Photograph of Dr Eileen MunroFollowing the tragic death of eight year old Victoria Climbié in 2000, Lord Laming was commissioned by the government to undertake a report into children's services in England. In this he called for wide-ranging reforms of the system. In the wake of yet another child's death - Baby P - Lord Laming has undertaken a follow up report which looks at the extent to which these reforms have been implemented,

Commenting on this latest report which has been published today Dr Eileen Munro (pictured), child protection expert and reader in Social Policy at LSE, said:

'Lord Laming asks for a "step change" in the way children are protected but his report only offers more of the same: more targets, more inspections, more rules. He provides a detailed and gloomy picture of how social work services have become burdened with bureaucracy and engulfed in a target-driven culture so that the focus on the child has been blurred. But he fails to analyse why this has happened. He therefore avoids noticing how his own reforms, well-intentioned though they were, have contributed to the problem. They put an unbalanced focus on quantity not quality, on measuring whether forms have been completed and deadlines met to the detriment of measuring how well the social worker interviewed the family and how rigorously the agency checked the accuracy of the assessment and the feasibility of the plan.

'Lord Laming notes the core problem that social workers are avoiding child protection work and that, without competent front line staff, all the reforms are useless. But he fails to link this to the government's research that shows social workers have been driven out by the dominance of bureaucracy and the undervaluing of the professional expertise needed to judge whether a child is being harmed and to work with a family to ensure safety. These workers cannot be tempted back by pay rises; we need to reform the culture and conditions so that they can put children's safety and welfare at the heart of their work and are helped to meet the intellectual and emotional challenges of the task.

'This is a disappointing report. It echoes the exhortations in the earlier report on Victoria Climbié's care but fails to grasp that creating a more effective child protection system needs more than good intentions. It requires a rigorous analysis of how the system has become so dysfunctional that social workers are told that typing data into a computer is more important than spending time with children to find out if they are safe and well. '

For further information please contact:
Sue Windebank, LSE press office
T: 020 7849 4624
E: s.windebank@lse.ac.uk

12 March 2009