Lord Laming’s review of child protection, published on 12 March, 2009 and ordered by government in the wake of the Baby P case, called for an overhaul of children’s social work.
Along with the work of the Social Work Task Force, whose final report is due in October 2009, it is set to lead to significant changes to the practice, training, management and – it is hoped – status of social workers.
Following Laming’s report, children’s secretary Ed Balls immediately accepted all 58 of his recommendations; however, the government’s formal response to the report – published on 6 May 2009 – departed from the peer’s report in some key areas.
- The establishment of new statutory targets for child protection.
- The creation of a National Safeguarding Delivery Unit, reporting to ministers, to oversee the delivery of Laming’s recommendations.
- Reform of the social work degree to allow specialisation in children’s social work after the first year.
- The establishment of a new post-qualifying safeguarding award that should be completed by all children’s social workers.
- The General Social Care Council’s code of practice for employers should be put on a statutory footing.
- The establishment of a conversion qualification for internationally qualified children’s social workers that ensure understanding of practice, guidance and legislation in England.
- Extra support for newly qualified social workers – currently being piloted – should be rolled out this year to all NQSWs working in children’s services.
- Directors of children’s services who have no experience of child protection should appoint an experienced social work manager to support them.
- The government should provide child protection training for council leaders and senior managers.
- Social workers’ employers should face disciplinary action over child protection failures.
- The Social Work Taskforce should produce national guidelines setting out maximum case loads for social workers.
- The taskforce should establish guidelines on guaranteed supervision time for social workers.
- The taskforce should develop a supply strategy for children’s social work to tackle recruitment and retention difficulties.
- The DCSF should revise Working together to safeguard children to set out the elements of high-quality supervision.
- The DCSF should undertake a feasibilty study into rolling out a national integrated children’s system.
- The government should ensure social work students get more and better child protection training at graduate and post-graduate level.
- Ofsted inspectors responsible for child protection must have direct experience of child protection work.
- Court fees for applying to take children into care should be reviewed and abolished unless “incontrovertible evidence” is produced that they are not a deterrent to councils taking out care cases.
- Working together to safeguard children should be revised to make it explicit that the formal purpose of serious case reviews is to learn lessons, and to ensure executive summaries are “high quality” and “publicly available” and accurately represent the full report.
- SCR panel chairs and SCR overview authors must be independent of the local safeguarding children board and all services involved in the case.
- Children’s trusts and LSCBs must not be chaired by the same person.
- The government should protect council, NHS and police budgets for safeguarding to ensure funds are not siphoned off.
- The government should ensure councils have sufficient funds to invest in early intervention and preventive services for children.
- A national annual report should be publishing examining spending on safeguarding against assessed need in every area.
See the full list of recommendations, with page references.
The centrepiece of the government’s response to Laming was a £58m social work transformation fund, available from 2009-11, to improve the training and development of children’s social workers by:-
- Sponsoring 200 university places from September 2009 so high-achieving graduates can convert to social work.
- Funding a recruitment campaign to tempt back social workers who have left the profession, starting in May 2009. There will be a helpline established in July to help link up job seekers with councils with vacant posts.
- Rolling out the newly qualified social worker support programme, currently being piloted in 90 areas, to all new practitioners joining statutory and voluntary services this September, and all overseas staff who need it.
- Funding a new practice-based Masters degree in children’s social work to start in early 2011 so practitioners can continue to develop.
- Establishing a new advanced social work professional status programme to help experienced social workers stay on the front line.
- Providing more support to frontline managers.
In its inital response, and in its action plan in May 2009, the government – while maintaining its acceptance of all of his recommendations – treated them in a number of different ways.
A number were accepted, including:-
- The establishment of the National Safeguarding Delivery Unit. In its response, the government said this would: develop explicit priorities and targets for safeguarding; produce comparative analysis on variations in local performance; identify and promote good practice and develop or commission reports to support practitioners; identify where improvements can be made by children’s trusts and co-ordinate support for them; involve practitioners in its work, for instance through secondment; be staffed by civil servants and statutory and voluntary sector experts.
- Commission a review of the hike in care fees last year would from Francis Plowden, a member of the Judicial Appointments Commission.
- The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill was amended to enable the government to introduce statutory targets on safeguarding.
- The employers’ code of practice would be placed on a statutory footing at the earliest legislative opportunity.
A number of Laming’s recommendations were directed at the Social Work Task Force and will be addressed in its final report in October :-
- The establishment of supervision guidelines for social workers.
- The production of a social worker supply strategy to address recruitment and retention difficulties.
Laming also called for some of his recommendations to be addressed through a review of the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance, while others were implicitly dependent on such a review, including:-
- Setting out clear expectations for all points where concerns about a child’s safety are received, including ensuring that duty teams have sufficient training to take referrals.
- Setting out the elements of high-quality supervision for children’s practitioners.
- Ensuring all referrals to children’s services from other professionals lead to an initial assessment, including direct involvement with the child.
- Ensuring serious case reviews focus on effective learning of lessons.
- Children’s trusts and local safeguarding children boards should not be chaired by the same person.
However, the DCSF deferred a number of other recommendations for consideration as part of the Working together review, which will lead to revised guidance by December 2009, including:-
- Ensuring children in need have early access to specialist services.
- Ensuring all staff working with children receive training in child development and signs of abuse.
The DCSF either rejected or withheld support from other recommendations, despite pledging to accept all of them:-
- It referred Laming’s recommendation on creating a specialist children’s social work degree after a generic first year to the Social Work Task Force. But in an interim report published in May 2009, the taskforce said there was scope for specialisation to happen later and stressed the need for social workers to learn about the needs of children and adults. This followed wholehearted opposition from across the sector for creating a specialist children’s services degree, which meant the government’s decision was greeted warmly by social work education leaders.
- Laming’s call for a review into establishing a national Integrated Children’s System was effectively rejected. Instead, the government accepted taskforce recommendations to free up councils to tailor local systems to their needs, after the taskforce rejected Laming’s recommendation on a national system.
- All of Laming’s recommendations on funding were effectively rejected, to the chagrin of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which warned that core funding for safeguarding needed to increase. While Laming had placed the onus on government to ensure adequate funding, ministers’ response said this was an issue for local children’s trusts.
In the light of Laming’s call for the code of practice for social care staff in England to be reviewed, the government backed proposals from the Social Work Task Force to establish a separate code of practice for social workers.
This proved controversial with the General Social Care Council, which is responsible for the code, saying it did not see the rationale for a separate social work code.
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- Read Community Care editor Bronagh Miskelly’s response to the report in our Social Work Blog.
Children’s secretary Ed Balls asked Laming, who formerly led the Victoria Climbié inquiry, for a “progress report” on safeguarding, after the Baby P trial ended in November 2008.
Balls said this should include barriers to taking children into care, including legal processes, and recommend what action the government and other agencies should take to speed up improvements.
Outlining Laming’s remit in November 2008, Balls also asked the peer to consider whether local safeguarding children boards should be independently chaired and to review what could be done to improve serious case reviews.
Both issues were highlighted in the Baby P case, as it emerged that former Haringey children’s director Sharon Shoesmith had chaired the local LSCB, while the Baby P serious case review was rated as inadequate by Ofsted.
February 2000: Victoria Climbié dies while under the protection of Haringey Council.
August 2007: 17-month-old Baby P dies while under the care of Haringey Council.
November 2008: Second Laming inquiry ordered after Baby P’s mother, her boyfriend and another man are convicted of causing or allowing his death.
March 2009: Laming inquiry reports.
May 2009: Government responds to Laming report with action plan.
Press coverage of the Laming report
Peer on Baby P: Now just do it (The Sun)
Devastating critique of the failings that doomed Baby P (The Independent)
Report: Children at risk for sake of targets (The Times)
Urgent shake-up of child welfare system (The Guardian)
Press coverage ahead of Laming report
Child protection reforms ‘part of the problem’ (BBC Radio 4 Today programme)
Martin Narey: Our duty of care (The Guardian)
Action urged on child protection (The Guardian)
Child protection facing criticism (BBC Online)