David Jones is in no mood to shy away from controversy. Within moments of our meeting, the new chair of Local Safeguarding Children Boards has accused the government of “creating risk for children”, due to fragmentation and lack of cohesion in its child social care policy.
Jones, who became chair of the Independent Association of Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) chairs in July, has been involved in the social work arena for 40 years.
Usually based in Northampton, he is in London on business today and has managed to fit in an interview with Community Care to reflect on a “lively” start to his role. He has also just arrived back from Melbourne, where he attended the world social work conference.
“There is a lot going on, so there is more than enough to do. The role could be a full time job so juggling it with everything else is an interesting challenge,” he tells Community Care.
Although Jones is just beginning to get to grips with his position, he is clear on the direction he believes the Association, and LSCBs, need to take. “We need to have the confidence in our knowledge and experience to be able to challenge government and strong voices elsewhere when needed,” he says.
Indeed, this is something Jones does not shy away from, attacking government policy in the area and the risk it poses to children.
“The irony is that local agencies are often criticised for a lack of co-operation. Central government has got to demonstrate what good co-operation is about and at the moment that is not coming over,” he says.
He claims a lack of a clear direction in government has seen the Home Office, Department of Communities and Local Government and Ministry of Justice “muscling in” and causing confusion.
“I can understand the policy drivers behind it, but it is my job to highlight the impact of those changes on safeguarding,” he reflects, pointing out that confusion within safeguarding has been compounded by a lack of clarity on which government department is in the lead.
Serious case reviews
A clear sense of direction is high on Jones’ priorities when tackling the debates around serious case reviews (SCRs). “They need to focus on the learning,” he says.
However, looking back on his 40-year career in social work, he admits: “The tension between learning from the experience and pointing the finger and apportioning blame has been endemic in serious case reviews for the whole of my career, which is now 40 years, so that’s not a new debate and it will never go away.”
But Jones’ views on the matter are clear: “There are such strong messages from engineering, from aviation, from health sectors all around the world that if you confuse the learning process with the fault finding you will not get the learning – and we’ve got to get the learning.”
Two recent reports into SCRs, one from Kingston University and, particularly, one from the government’s expert panel on SCRs, make an “important contribution” that needs to be taken seriously, he says.
However, he remarks on the expert panel’s lack of social work experience. “Not to have a single person on the panel who has knowledge or expertise of the whole system is more than surprising,” he admits.
Speaking clearly and emphatically, despite the backdrop of loud chatter and noise during London’s rush hour, Jones set out his clear resolve that LSCBs should remain champions of co-operation that reassure the public about child protection.
“I am determined that children are served best by effective partnerships and we therefore have to build those partnerships and demonstrate to the public that partnerships keep children safe, which I believe they do but we have to give the evidence for it.”
He described the make-up of LSCB chairs across the country as “unique”, with a “detailed insight into the operation of the child protection system”. “That knowledge has to be heard and drawn on, so it’s important for us to draw on that knowledge and contribute to it, and be able to speak up,” he says.
Luckily Jones’ challenging work schedule isn’t preventing him from doing this: “It’s a challenge to the government – a fragmentation and lack of cohesion in government policy creates risk for children. Full stop. They have got to be clear how they are working together and when new services are set up that safeguarding implications are thought through.”