Readers told Community Care on CareSpace what they would like to ask Professor Eileen Munro, head of the review of child protection, and children’s minister Tim Loughton. Here are some of their answers in an exclusive interview.
Q: Should other agencies do more in children’s services?
TL: When things go wrong and serious case reviews are published, almost invariably a failure in joint-agency working and communication is one of the usual suspects. In this review we hope to find out if we need better lines of communication or training, or whether the problem is that professionals spend so much time filling in forms to send to each other they don’t have time to actually talk.
Q: Are problems with information-sharing technological or cultural?
TL: If you’ve got the culture right, then the IT should be made to produce what you need. But too often, I think technology has been leading practice, which has ended up actually obstructing practice.
Q: Is this a review of services in a time of scarce resources or more about sustainable improvement?
EM: It’s happening in a time of economic problems, but the issues around improving practice are there, regardless of what the financial situation is. There’s a lot of money in the system already and this review is about using it to better effect.
Q:What’s the time-frame for this review? When will we have a system that is up to scratch?
EM: My review report will come out in April 2011, but you don’t say do this and all will be wonderful overnight. It’s about building up skills, building up capacity, increasing the confidence of social workers and increasing public appreciation of them as well. I haven’t got as far as knowing how long that will take.
Q: How are you going to address the issue of retention?
EM: Research shows the level of bureaucracy is one of the biggest factors driving people away. So we’re aiming to make the job more attractive by giving people the skills and resources to make them feel proud of what they’re doing. In the ’80s and ’90s people were proud of being child protection workers and would stay for several years. It has happened, so it can happen again.
Q: Should there be a policy of over-time pay in place of the TOIL system?
EM: I think we should be looking at how social workers can do their jobs in the appropriate time. It’s a really demanding job and doing overtime in an emergency is understandable, but as a standard way of behaving it’s bad for their health and, I think, one of the factors that drives people away.
Q: How do you intend to build social workers’ confidence?
TL: The fact that we’re doing this review should be a confidence builder in the first place. The fact that we’ve taken the problems in social work so seriously as to launch this heavy-weight review within 5 weeks of coming into government should be an indicator to social workers that we acknowledge them and feel the need to do something.
Q: Will the workforce need to be re-trained to adjust to less paperwork and more direct contact with families?
EM: That is a very real problem we have to take account of. To switch from filling in forms to spending time in family homes will be a big adjustment for some. For others it will be a delight. I think some of them may have been trained well, but then put into a job that’s so heavily bureaucratised that it’s de-skilled them. They will need help in feeling confident and getting the skills to do it, but the Task Force is very aware of that and we’re going to work together on it.
Q: What are your thoughts on thresholds?
EM: It’s the wrong concept. If you’re dealing with a child, you don’t have a threshold for removal. You look at this unique child and look at the dangers in his home setting, whether you can work with them and remove those dangers to make it safe enough or whether you have to remove him, in which case what are the dangers of removing him? And you weigh up. There isn’t a unique threshold across the country, it depends on the individual case and what you have available. So I don’t think the government should draw up firm guidelines on this.
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