Chief social worker urges review of risk assessment tools used by social workers

As part of the government's response to failings in Rotherham, Isabelle Trowler has asked council leaders for an immediate review

Photo: Flick/A Syn

Chief social worker for children Isabelle Trowler has urged council leaders to review the tools social workers use when assessing and managing risks to children.

In a letter sent to all local authority directors of children’s services, chief executives and lead members, Trowler called on leaders to “immediately review any assessment and decision making tools in use in your authority designed to support professionals making decisions about risk”.

The letter, written on behalf of education secretary Nicky Morgan, is part of the government’s response to the “chronic” social work failings exposed by by high profile child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases in Rotherham.

Trowler drew particular attention to a tool referred to in the Alexis Jay report into CSE in Rotherham. The troubled council used an assessment tool based on a numeric scoring system, which mean risks were underestimated, Trowler wrote.

Swift action

“As part of this review, you should assure yourself that any tools are not only fit for purpose, but being properly implemented as well,” she said.

These tools should not be used until their validity has been “seriously explored”, she urged, and should only ever be used to assist decision making.

Local authorities need to be fostering an approach where social workers have high quality dialogue with expert practice supervisors, to help them make decisions about risk, she said.

While acknowledging there is a place for assessment tools to help professionals make decisions about risk, Trowler urged “swift action” from councils on how such tools should be used locally.

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6 Responses to Chief social worker urges review of risk assessment tools used by social workers

  1. Philip Measures March 5, 2015 at 10:54 am #

    Appalling! Sorry, but absolutely no Guidance from the Chief Social Worker on WHAT Tools are useful. This just leaves Local Authorities and social workers as ‘hostages to fortune’ – if something you use doesn’t work then whyt were you using it in the first place? Surely this can’t be right and go unchallenged – or is it just another way for Government to protect itself and why would the Chief Social Worker even be associated with such a letter?
    Retired (and no longer registered0 social worker.

  2. Philip Measures March 5, 2015 at 11:24 am #

    Further to my comment above many of us remember (with mixed feelings) the old ‘Orange Book’ Assessment Framework – that actually contained a great deal of useful ‘avenues’ to explore / assess but was withdrawn – probably because it was TOO detailed! But it remains one of the better Assessment Aids (I don’t like the term ‘tools’) that has ever been produced. I recommend it to all social workers who are not familiar with it as it covers many important elements and does not need to be use in in its entirety but those parts relating to family history are ones which we neglect at our peril.

  3. Julie Wilkes March 6, 2015 at 7:57 am #

    Since the orange book was abandoned assessments seem to be focused on simple snapshots of the present situation. What happened to the importance of full social histories? Or analysis?

    • Jazz March 6, 2015 at 9:51 pm #

      Well, well, what a surprise! Indeed, what does the education minister have to do with social work? More prescriptive practice from Government! So, ICS coupled with tick box use from the Assessment Framework rather than analysis or time to analyse have been complained about by social workers for years, now since bureacracy and performance indicators have replaced the Orange Book and opportunity to practice thorough social work, detailed and robust assessment skills have been eroded! Along with experienced staff disillusioned and leaving/retiring, newly qualified social workers are set up to fail. Generally no protection for them from s47 investigations for 2yrs or child protection registration cases for 6 months like the professional rule was until only a few years ago. And no protection from career climbing managers, either! Then those with arrogance and a ‘blue light flashing’ on the head shortly afterwards promoted to management! Their equals in Whitehall should not be surprised – haven’t they learned that the core professionals know better than them about how to run their own professions? Social work includes as its daily ‘bread and butter’ risk and its assessment. And now we’re told: “Local authorities need to be fostering an approach where social workers have high quality dialogue with expert practice supervisors, to help them make decisions about risk”. The irony, lack of insight and blame game continues. I rest my case.

  4. Ian Merry March 8, 2015 at 11:40 am #

    Hear Hear Jazz….someone who’s not afraid to tell it like it is.

    No amount of pom-poms and rah-rah skirts will save social work.

  5. moment ngara March 9, 2015 at 11:24 pm #

    We are moving towards an era where common sense is seen not to have any place in practice. Systems that used to produce reasonable and affective social work outcomes had since been dumped for quick fixes to compete with targets. Fun enough though, the organization is slowly creeping back to the old systems on the guise of rescripts. I have been working in community care assessments team where identified needs were fitted into boxes yet we are expected to promote personalisation and person centred interventions. Instead of being exploratory on the individuals past and present experiences as the ones that influence their future outcomes, the system focussed mainly on here and now. It is these short sighted agendas that find workers under immense pressures to achieve meaningful long-term outcomes. Social work academia would agree that while universities are providing students with some important tools to influence change and empower the lives of our service recipients the current political environment is not receptive to such endeavours. One might question, what will be the use of wings if they can’t make us fly. Social work is slowly ceasing to be the powerful and just profession it used to be. Thanks to the introduction of the new Care Act