Education secretary Michael Gove’s letter to Eileen Munro (pictured), who is reviewing child protection for the government, suggests she has her work cut out.
Not only has Munro, the professor of social work at the London School of Economics, been tasked with finding ways to decrease bureaucracy within children’s services, she’s also expected to improve joined-up working, build confidence within and around the sector, investigate Ofsted, and sort out that troublesome integrated children’s system (a mammoth task in itself).
As the review was launched there was a buzz around new models of social work and what their wider implementation could mean for the sector.
Much attention has been paid to the “Hackney model”, named after the London borough where it was introduced two years ago, in which social work teams are headed by consultant social workers.
The teams are given extra administrative support in an effort to free staff to spend more time visiting families.
Munro, who has evaluated the model but whose findings have yet to be published, has already hinted of her approval.
John Kemmis, chief executive of children’s empowerment charity Voice, said: “One of the main benefits of this model is that it allows social workers to progress in their careers without being forced into senior management. So we can keep some of the most highly skilled practitioners on the frontline, in direct practice, and working beside newly qualified workers, which is good for everybody.”
Other councils, such as Birmingham, are already looking at adopting the model. However, it is expensive – a concern flagged by Len Clarke, Birmingham Council’s executive member for children’s social care.
Another area Munro and her panel will examine is how IT systems can “contribute to strengthening good practice”, suggesting the government is looking for a broader change to the integrated children’s system.
Denise Harrison, sales and marketing director at ICS provider LiquidLogic, said that, despite its problems, there remained much potential within ICS.
“Young people are often very tech savvy and I think it would be a great idea to develop ICS to be like the adults’ portals system, where service users contribute their own thoughts and feelings about the process,” she said.
“A lot of social workers have said to me it would be nice if, when a child leaves care and is suitably old enough, we could show them the process that led to them being in care. Having their input included in that history would be all the more valuable.”
Cutting bureaucracy has become the government’s priority in social care. Children’s minister Tim Loughton has been a long-time critic of the previous government’s barrage of guidance and legislation for social workers, which he said included an additional 693 pages in one day.
“Eileen Munro has identified that well-intentioned attempts to improve the system have got in the way of social workers doing their job effectively,” he said. “This review is about decreasing bureaucracy. I would be happy if the rule book was cut in half.”
However, child protection consultant Perdeep Gill, said that while bureaucracy needed to be cut, such a move came with risk.
“Social workers over the past 13 years have had bureaucracy imposed upon them but now that paperwork has become their safety buffer. Social workers these days don’t know how to operate without being told what to do by the paperwork. You need to also address the whole issue around the quality of social work as well or it will break down.”
And of course, no children’s services review would be complete without a debate about Ofsted.
Munro has said she will review Ofsted’s inspection criteria and has made it clear that she, personally, is in favour of inspectors going on home visits with social workers and being more responsible for helping councils improve.
Issues Eileen Munro will consider:
● Improving interaction between social work teams and universal services.
● Using Sure Start and children’s centres to identify at-risk families.
● Identifying barriers to good social work practice.
● How other agencies can better help.
Trusting frontline social workers
● Simplifying regulation and reducing bureaucracy.
● Identifying how targets get in the way of good practice.
● How the recording of cases can support professionals’ work.
● How social workers can be given greater professional freedom.
● Lessons from other countries.
● How poorly performing areas can match the standard of the best.
● Best practice in information-sharing between councils.
Transparency and accountability
● How more transparency in the system could build greater public confidence.
● How serious case reviews can be strengthened.
● How risk can be managed to avoid a blame culture.
● How the system can champion professionals to increase their status.
● How inspection can be improved.