Professor Eileen Munro has urged the government and councils to “speed up” implementing her recommendations on the child protection system in England.
Reporting on the progress made in the last year, Munro agreed that the government delay in freeing up social workers from assessment timescales had held-up growth in many areas.
“The government accepted my recommendations on this but has not yet published revised statutory guidance for consultation. This delay, albeit for good reasons, has caused some problems, with some hesitating to start reforms in case the government changes its mind and others feeling frustrated because they can only partly implement reforms until the guidance allows them more freedom.”
However, she said she was pleased with the changes that had been made to Ofsted’s inspection process.
However, she urged Ofsted to take on a role encouraging and sharing good practice which would become important in the absence of nationally prescribed rules. “This first cycle of inspections will be significant in establishing that expectations are not too high but are realistic and ambitious about the protection of children and young people.”
She also suggested that the first joint assessment framework from all the inspection bodies, due in 2013, focus on the effectiveness of the local safeguarding children board and the contribution of all partners to it.
Munro also urged the government to give a clear message about the priority of safeguarding amidst the massive changes going on in other sectors such as health, police, the courts and education.
Her observations were backed by the College of Social Work who said members were concerned that changes were not happening fast enough.
Corinne May-Chahal, interim co-chair of the college said: “Social workers are still struggling with IT systems that do not reflect Munro principles and more needs to be done to ensure that systematic learning and managing uncertainty have political and organisational support at the local level.”
In her report, Munro, also responded to some fears such as that freeing up bureaucracy would lead to a proliferation of assessment forms and procedures, complicating life for services working across a number of local authority areas.
Munro pointed out that assessment forms have never been centrally prescribed so her reforms would make little difference.
However, she said flexibility was desirable.
“Standardisation has value when we know how to do something to a high standard but, in safeguarding children, we still have much to learn and so it is premature to create a detailed nationally prescribed way of working. It is important to have the flexibility to allow learning and improvement. The experience of the ICS software in children’s social care has been a lesson in the negative impact of poorly designed tools on professional practice.”
However, Munro acknowledged that monitoring was needed to judge if differences in approach were leading to incompatibilities in the guidance given to different professional groups.
“I suggest that the Chief Social Worker takes on a lead role in co-ordinating a group of representatives from the professions involved to facilitate discussion of any
emerging problems in the Working Together guidance and suggest revisions as needed in the future.”
Children’s minister Tim Loughton said the government was committed to keeping up the momentum and doing everything it could to get the right mechanisms in place.
“But this is about putting the power of decision making back into the hands of local authorities and they all need to step up to the challenge and be strong and confident leaders who are ready to innovate,” he said.