Do registers serve any purpose in social care?


The child protection register could be on the way out but
in other fields registers have been proposed as new solutions. The
government is planning to introduce a domestic violence register.
Can they serve a useful purpose?
Natalie Valios investigates

Child protection

Phasing out the child protection register is one proposal
anticipated to be in the children’s green paper due out soon.
The register is expected to be replaced with an identification,
referral and tracking (IRT) system. Social services’ input to
IRT is intended to enable information gathered at the point of
referral and during assessments to be used more effectively in
deciding what services to provide. They would also be expected to
review children’s progress in other areas such as education
and health.

This will allow staff to identify children who have been the
subject of child protection concerns before, making the register

It was Lord Laming who first mooted the idea of scrapping the
child protection register in the Victoria Climbié Report. At
the time, many social care professionals working in child
protection agreed that the emphasis should be moved from
registering to planning.

The IRT would certainly refocus the emphasis now placed on
monitoring and providing services to those children considered
“at risk”, and draw in more of those children in need
who often receive less attention and fewer services because they
are not deemed high priority.

An additional problem is that parents have recognised this and
some are prepared to work the system in the knowledge that this is
the only way they will receive help from social services, says
Terry Thomas, reader in social work at Leeds Metropolitan
University. “They know they will have access to better
services if their child is on the register, so they threaten their
children so that they get put on it.”

This has resulted in the wrong type of service, he says.
“If you were concerned about children in need you’d
offer everyone the same service.”

Registers already form a staple diet for contemporary social
work, adds Thomas. “Mostly they are accepted without
question, fulfilling our need to impose order on the chaos we are
confronted with on a daily basis.” But he believes the child
protection register is bureaucratic and has little effect.
“It’s the actions of the practitioners that will
protect the child, not the register – likewise with sex
offenders,” he says.

“How many social workers have gone away from a case
conference after adding a name to the child protection register
with the helpless feeling that it isn’t going to make a bit
of difference, but ‘it looks like we’re doing
something’?” Thomas asks. “It gives you a sense
of security and you feel you have some sort of control over things
but I’m not sure you have.”

Domestic violence

It looks as if the government is in two minds about the
effectiveness of registers. At the same time as it is proposing to
scrap the child protection register it outlined plans to create
domestic violence registers in its consultation document, Safety
and Justice, published in June.

Two women a week are killed in England and Wales from violence
by a partner. The proposal is for two registers – one of
people who have been convicted of domestic violence and the other,
a register of civil orders to allow the police to check for
outstanding orders against an alleged offender so they can take
immediate action to protect the victim.

There is also talk of another register for violent offenders in
general. A Home Office spokesperson says: “The model of the
sex offenders’ register you would imagine would be relevant.
It blazed the trail.”

Last year, there were 18,513 names on the sex offenders’
register. Like the child protection register it is held locally,
this time by police rather than social services. Sex offenders have
to report to the police within 72 hours of being released so that
their address is known. They are not allowed to move home without
informing the police, and have to report to them once a year.

Ray Wyre, independent sexual crime consultant and expert on sex
offenders, says: “The sex offenders’ register will
catch people quicker. It doesn’t necessarily prevent people
reoffending, but there is no doubt that the length of time they
carry on reoffending becomes immediately shortened.”

Its effectiveness was improved in April 2001, when multi-agency
public protection arrangements (Mappa) were set up to work
alongside the register. They place a duty on police and probation
to assess and manage risks posed by offenders in England and Wales
in partnership with other agencies including prison, health,
housing and social services.

But there are clearly differences between a register for sex
offenders where there is the risk of the offender abusing others,
including children, and for those who are violent towards their

“What would be the point of a domestic violence register?
A woman living with a violent man knows he’s violent,”
says Wyre, who raises several other questions. “What teeth
will it have or is it a superficial spin exercise? Who would have
access to it? How does having a domestic violence register help the
police if that information isn’t being given to other women
who might go into a relationship with the violent man?

“Will we decide to prosecute without women’s consent
as they do in some countries? Will the register mean someone can be
forced to go into treatment? Will it tie in with safe houses for
women and children and will that happen faster if the man is on a
register and identified.”

And what about stalkers, people who will not leave the
relationship despite the violence, or women who don’t
complain because they think it will make the situation worse, he
adds. “That’s why a great deal of thought should go
into how it works.”

Collecting statistics on prevalence could be one benefit of a
domestic violence register, says Jeanne Kaniuk, head of adoption
and permanent families service at Coram Family. “I
wouldn’t want to knock it entirely, but if it’s
supposed to mean that domestic violence is magically solved,
that’s not a realistic expectation. But it might help to
understand the scale of the problem and target

Whether it is useful depends on the purpose it is serving, she
says. “If it’s child protection, it’s meant to
mean they are adequately monitored and receiving services. So it
may be for a lot of children that it has served a purpose although
there have been notorious cases where it has failed.

“But a register is only a tool. There’s always going
to be a problem keeping such a large administration system up to
date and efficiently functioning. Expectations shouldn’t be
of 100 per cent success.”


One register that hasn’t shown a great success rate in its
first year is the National Adoption Register. Earlier this year its
first annual report showed that only 5 per cent of the children put
forward for possible adoption by the register had been successfully

Although 600 children and prospective parents were linked in the
register’s first year, only 30 progressed through to
adoption. Run by the charity Norwood on behalf of the Department of
Health and the Welsh assembly, the register has been criticised for
not making enough matches given its £633,000 annual

Kaniuk does not want to be overly critical, however, saying that
those working in adoption did not expect the register to increase
placements rapidly. Families that can offer a home to children with
more complex needs are few, while children with straightforward
needs are often placed relatively quickly by local authorities. The
result is a register with children who are difficult to place and
families that want children with few problems, leaving a bit of a
mismatch, says Kaniuk.

“The jury is out, I wouldn’t want to come to a final
conclusion so early on,” she says. “One function that
would be excellent if it was fulfilled is if the register could
collate statistics and present a real picture of what is needed
across the country.”

Vulnerable adults

Meanwhile, the launch of another register many were keen to see
in place has been delayed. As yet the Department of Health has no
definite date for setting up the promised protection of vulnerable
adults register, but says it will happen “some time

The PoVA list is to be set up under the Care Standards Act 2000
to record the names of people judged unsuitable to work with
vulnerable adults. But, at the same time as the PoVA list’s
delay, Criminal Record Bureau checks have been put on hold for
staff in adult care settings supplied by nursing and domiciliary
care agencies and for staff already in post in April 2002. This has
left the way wide open for abusive situations, say those working
with vulnerable adults.

Action on Elder Abuse believes the PoVA list needs to be
implemented as quickly as possible because there is no effective
system at present to identify those who have abused and have either
been prosecuted or sacked or both.

And it is impossible to rely on references given by employers
who have offloaded staff for such behaviour, it adds.
It sees the PoVA list differing from current protection methods,
and therefore vital in protecting vulnerable adults, because
de-registration from the social care register and the CRB both rely
on proof and final verdict. PoVA would record allegations and
concerns so there would be a current record, as opposed to waiting
for a verdict to record. Also, anyone whether they were registered
or not, such as a voluntary worker, would be eligible for inclusion
on the list.

Peter Westland, chairperson of Action on Elder Abuse, says:
“Recruiting the right staff to work in the care industry is a
process requiring meticulous procedures. It cannot be too strongly
emphasised how important it is to properly vet people who work with
the vulnerable and dependent. The PoVA list would provide a vital
resource tool in this process and we shall continue to press for
its urgent implementation.”

But while it can feel reassuring to have a list, it can prove to
be a false security, warns Liz Garrett, head of policy at
Barnardo’s. To ensure a register is the right response, there
should be “clarity of purpose and it should be developed in
consultation with those people who need a solution. People
generally need something more than being on a list,” she

Ultimately, whatever lists achieve, they cannot provide
services. As Wyre says: “So many databases and lists, so
what? It’s what you do with them that counts.”

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