Uncertain future for serious case reviews following government delay

Ex-children's minister says the government should have the power to force local authorities to carry out serious case reviews, while the preferred model for SCRs remains unclear

The DfE is yet to make a decision on the future of serious case reviews

Uncertainty hangs over the future of serious case reviews as the government has failed to clarify whether it will continue its commitment to a ‘systems learning’ approach.

The approach, such as the ‘learning together’ model developed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), was endorsed by the Munro report on child protection.

Yet a later review – the Carlile report into the Edlington case – called for the use of judges in future serious case reviews (SCRs) and court-style open and closed reports.

The government has not yet responded to the Carlile review, but agreed to evaluate a systems approach piloted in three local authorities. The Department for Education (DfE) has not yet confirmed when this will be published.

Confusion over preferred model for SCRs

In recent draft proposals of the Working Together guidance the government proposed simply that local safeguarding children boards carry out serious case reviews that “get to the heart” of why social workers made the decisions they did in a case.

Sheila Fish, who led work on SCIE’s ‘learning together’ model, said she was concerned. “We’ve not had any clarification from the DfE about their intentions. But certainly I would say the Carlisle recommendations do not sit very easily with Munro.

SCIE plans to publish its own learning from the pilots, where the model was applied to cases that met the SCR threshold. “One of the things we’ve learned is that local safeguarding children boards (LSCBs) need to be adequately prepared for the new look report,” Fish said.

“The report often gets to grips with systemic issues, which can be far more challenging for boards to deal with and takes very confident leaders. You can end up with a board getting defensive about the findings,” she added.

Do ministers need to force councils to carry out SCRs?

Meanwhile, ex-children’s minister Tim Loughton told Community Care he intends to table an amendment to the children and families bill that would force local safeguarding boards to carry out SCRs.

The number of SCRs commissioned has been dropping since 2008, but there was a dramatic fall from 115 in 2009/10 to 69 in 2010/11 with far less serious injury cases meriting a SCR.

Loughton told Community Care he suspected that, because the government forced full publication in 2010, many LSCBs were simply not commissioning them.

“The government cannot compel an LSCB to commission a SCR and I think that’s a serious flaw. I intend to bring it up during the children and families bill’s passage through parliament,” he said.

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