Consultant and trainer Perdeep Gill pinpoints where child protection procedures should be streamlined and improved
1 Extend the time requirement on initial assessments from seven days to three weeks. This means 15 working days or less depending on the nature of the case. The current seven-day limit means that only the most superficial enquires can be made; with cases closed, sometimes, before information is received from partner agencies.
2 The initial assessment would become the process by which either a section 47 (of the Children Act 1989) investigation or a section 17 probe takes place to determine whether a child is in need of services. The initial assessment would also be acceptable if the social worker deemed that a child required early intervention (ie, the initial assessment could be the referring document instead of social workers having to fill out a common assessment).
3 The initial assessment would also be the report presented at a case conference, so would include recommendations with regard to a child protection or a child-in-need plan. This will cut down on social workers having to duplicate the same material in different report formats.
4 The initial assessment should be trimmed to headings: alleged concern and needs, child’s development, parenting capacity and functioning, parental history, family history, family dynamics and relationships (including attachment) and impact of environmental factors. This should be followed by analysis and then recommendations. Limiting headings will allow social workers to own the (evidence-based) narrative and also removes the repetitive and prescriptive model currently in use. A trimmed framework will free social workers to think rather than fill in tick boxes.
5 Core assessments should be scrapped. They create an illusion of a thorough assessment when the reality is that social workers spend a maximum of four to five hours with any one family which is not enough time to carry out a comprehensive assessment. Instead, a detailed risk and needs assessment should be part of the child protection or child-in-need plan with the expectation that if social workers become aware of higher risk or need they act on it before the plan is reviewed. This assessment should be completed by the time the plan is next reviewed. Such a framework would allow social workers to carry out an in-depth assessment that is meaningfully continuous. This assessment should have the same headings as the initial assessment plus one extra heading: detailed plan for assessment.
6 Family files should be created instead of separate files for each child. This would cut time wasted on copying and pasting information from one child’s file to another child’s in the same family and allow a systemic approach to children and families in relation to risk, difficulties and strengths.
7 Meetings should be restricted to strategy meetings and child protection or child-in-need case conferences. In all other cases the social worker’s proposal of the plan should be electronically circulated to all professionals concerned. Other professionals would have a duty to respond, as they would in regard to electronic reviews of the plan.
The above steps, combined with more administrative support for matters such as setting up meetings and chasing written information from partner agencies etc, would free-up the time of social workers and other professionals. That time could be better spent in face-to-face work with families.
Perdeep Gill is an independent child protection trainer and consultant