Most serious case reviews ‘of limited benefit’

Most serious case reviews are of “limited benefit” because they fail to provide enough information about how and why children die or suffer serious injuries, according to a study published today.

The four-month timescale for completing SCRs is also “not realistic or achievable” due to court delays and other pressures, researchers at the University of East Anglia found.

The biennial study of SCRs, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, found that just two of the 106 reports completed in 2005-6 were within the timescale.

Professionals ‘overwhelmed’

Children who died or suffered serious injury went unseen because professionals were “overwhelmed” with the volume and nature of their work, the study of  189 SCRs between April 2005 and March 2007 found.

But putting a child on a protection plan or even a care order did not always protect the child, researchers found. In 2005-07 17% of children involved in SCRs were the subject of a child protection plan.

However, almost half of the children were not known to children’s social care at the time of the incident. Parents’ reluctance to co-operate and tendency to move around many times meant some children went “off the radar”.

Concerns were also raised by Ofsted’s assessments of SCRs. While this was felt to have improved the quality of management reviews – which are conducted for each agency involved in an SCR – some practitioners and managers felt the gradings were contributing to an “incapacitating” drop in staff morale.

‘Blame culture warning’

There was also concern about the increasing emphasis on targets and performance indicators in child protection, which could potentially lead practitioners to “retreat into a blame culture”, the report warned.

Lead author Marian Brandon, a child care specialist at the University of East Anglia, said: “Speaking with practitioners and managers we found evidence for the potential for a retreat into a blame culture and defensive practice in carrying out serious case reviews.

“There was also concern about the prospect of a slide into formulaic reports that will pass muster with the inspectorate. These are worrying developments. If a target-driven culture risks undermining thoughtful child-centred practice, it can also threaten serious case reviews.”

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