Sharp fall in number of serious case reviews carried out

Cost, the difficulties around anonymity and the prospect of the Munro Review changing the system have prompted a fall in the number of serious case reviews being carried out, according to sector experts. Professor Ray Jones (pictured), independent chair of Bristol's Safeguarding Children's Board, said he felt the move to publish serious case reviews in full was the single biggest issue causing the fall.

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Cost, the difficulties around anonymity and the prospect of the Munro Review changing the system have prompted a fall in the number of serious case reviews being carried out, according to sector experts.

Ofsted has confirmed the number of serious case reviews done in 2010-11 so far is 71. This compares with 136 in 2009-10, 131 in 2008-9 and 137 in 2007-8.

However, the watchdog refused to speculate on the reasons for the fall.

Professor Ray Jones, independent chair of Bristol’s Safeguarding Children’s Board, said he felt the move to publish serious case reviews in full was the single biggest issue causing the fall. He agreed cost was also a factor, pointing out it can cost a council between £40,000 and more than £100,000 per serious review depending on its complexity.

“But the single biggest change that correlates with this drop is the move to publish SCRs in full. I don’t think it’s about councils trying to protect staff I think it’s just the sheer difficulty in ensuring nobody can be identified yet still make them meaningful, learning documents that tell a story.”

He also claimed the government itself was unlikely to publish the Shannon Matthews SCR and the SCR on the Edlington torture case because of the problems around anonymising them.

A Department for Education spokesperson said the two SCRs were still being worked on with a view to publishing the full overview reports.

“The publication of SCR overview reports is a sensitive and complex matter. It is vitally important that published SCR overview reports are appropriately redacted and anonymised to protect the privacy and welfare of vulnerable children and their families and that proper consideration is given to both the public interest in publishing overview reports and the welfare of children involved in the case. This process needs to be conducted very carefully and thoroughly and takes time. Until this process is complete we cannot make firm commitments on timescales.”

The government pledged to to publishing four high profile serious case reviews last June. So far only those relating to Baby P and Khyra Ishaq have been published.

Barry Raynes, chief executive of Reconstruct, a consultancy that both chairs and writes serious case review reports, agreed the move to full publication had made it more difficult to write good serious case reviews. “The government could get round this by publishing all serious case review overviews once a year on a national website so it becomes harder to identify children.

“It’s also important to note that the Munro Review is likely to get rid of the current system and use the Social Care Institute for Excellence model which is also likely to be a factor.”

A recent survey of 170 frontline child protection professions by Community Care seems to back this up. While most did not know if there were more or less serious case reviews in their area, of the 27 who said there were less, most attributed it to an attempt to save money or because better ways of reviewing such cases were being investigated. Only three said it was due to the difficulties in anonymising cases.

However, the fact some councils are not publishing reviews of events, because they are not an official serious case review, could leave them open to accusations of a lack of public accountability.

Raynes said he felt it was important for families and the public to know the events around a case are taken seriously by councils but also pointed out that councils did not learn enough from SCRs to justify the current expense.

“If I was a LSCB (local safeguarding children board) chair I would avoid them as much as I could at the moment,” he added.

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