Selection panel could cover gaps

Every social worker, team leader and director in fieldwork knows
one or two families who sound more dangerous, or less safe, than
other families on the child protection register. And many at-risk
children fall through the gaps in the system and are not on any

At present, dysfunctional or faltering families are treated alike:
a parity of educational welfare intervention, the health visitor
who tears her hair out, and various civil court hearings to
anticipate or to postpone full care orders.

A social worker can spend all week on one family, but there is no
means of highlighting this family above others. The fear is that a
family can move down the pecking order because they have “gone

So, why not set up a special panel in every city or county hall
solely to discuss the 10 most troublesome families known to social
services? The existence of this panel would not constitute a
scapegoating process, nor would it label people who are trying
their best, or be prejudicial to their interests. Indeed, it can be
argued that some vulnerable family members, mothers included,
welcome someone else identifying new threats to that family’s

How would such a panel work? It would meet monthly, with the option
of discussing unsafe families through written submissions only or
by hearing from allocated social workers in person. The make-up of
the panel would be similar to the existing adoption panel, that is,
including representatives from fostering, health authorities,
probation, education, plus two lay members and a paid

The report presented on each family under discussion should not
bear any resemblance to a civil court report, or a child protection
report, and it shouldn’t just be a detailed chronology. In the
past, one of the problems has been that too much is known about
certain families in difficulty, which has made it difficult to
discern trends.

Instead, the report should summarise what extra risk factors make
this family special, whether the family is accessible to all
agencies, the single premise that most agencies have been working
on until now, whether the family has developed techniques for
hiding dangerous behaviour, whether the child has suffered any
accident, and whether identified risks are repeating

One sheet of A4, one slot of 20 minutes each month or alternate
month, but what a potential dividend.

Godfrey Holmes is a child care social worker in the

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