The Government has announced it is commissioning an independent review of child protection and social work in England.
Education Minister Michael Gove has asked Professor Eileen Munro from the London School of Economics to look at how to remove the barriers and bureaucracy which prevent social workers spending valuable time with vulnerable children.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton also announced that the overview report and the executive summary of all new serious case reviews (SCRs) initiated from today should be published. Mr Loughton wrote to all the chairs of local safeguarding children boards, and directors of children’s services to ensure that all SCRs will be appropriately redacted, anonymised and published in full except where it would affect the welfare of any surviving children and their siblings.
Professor Munro works in the department of Social Policy at LSE and has done extensive research on risk assessment and management in child protection and mental health work.
Her review will set out the obstacles preventing children’s social workers from making the best judgments and interventions, including considering how effectively professionals in various agencies work together. The review will also consider if we should emulate best practices in child protection systems in other countries.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Munro said: “The way the system has evolved has been so focused on improving the procedures and the guidance that it’s accidentally undermined the importance of the social work skill.
“It’s about social workers going into family homes and being able to talk to children, being able to deal with aggressive parents and the organisation supporting them in that difficult and very emotional work.”
She added that the amount of paperwork in the job had “mushroomed out of control” since the 1970s.
The review will consider changing the case management structure from social workers functioning within a hierarchical structure to working in small autonomous teams of five that handle cases together. Each team has an administrator who does the paperwork allowing the social workers to spend more time with vulnerable children.
This model has been successfully piloted in Hackney where the number of children put into care has drop by about a third since being introduced.
The Children’s Rights Alliance for England said the review offered an opportunity to take evidence from children directly and to scrutinise the safety of children in custody.
Their national co-ordinator, Carolyne Willow, said: “We would be surprised, given the broad remit of the review, if it did not carefully consider international norms relating to child protection, set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and, more recently, by the UN Violence Study which the UK helped to fund.
“Child protection law does not differentiate between children who are harmed within families or within institutions. Yet, the abuse of children in custody is going unchecked: 30 children have died in custody since the UK signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and there have been endless reports of injuries, degrading treatment and child protection referrals to local councils that have not improved protection. International law gives every child the right to an effective remedy when their rights are violated and we hope the Munro review will keep this firmly in focus.”