SCRs ‘to focus more on systemic than individual failings’

Serious case reviews (SCRs) into child deaths and severe abuse should in future be better able to identify systemic failings, rather than focus on individual practitioners, under new government guidance, an expert has said.

Liz Davies, senior lecturer in children and families social work at London Metropolitan University, said proposals in draft guidance issued last week would “take the spotlight off individual workers and put it on systemic failure”.

Under the draft revised chapter 8 of Working together to safeguard children, individual management reviews (IMRs) of each agency should ask whether there were “organisational differences being experienced within or between agencies”, and if there was “an adequate number of staff in post”.

Reviews must assess staff sickness levels

IMRs should also consider the impact on each case of staff sickness levels, and highlight evidence of good practice, says the guidance, published for consultation in response to Lord Laming’s review of child protection, sparked by the baby Peter case.

The guidance from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) also stresses that the primary purpose of SCRs is to learn lessons, a key recommendation in Laming’s review.

Davies welcomed this focus on a less punitive approach, but said it was crucial that SCRs were also able to provide “justice” for children and their families.

Full publication of reports rejected

In line with Laming’s recommendations, the DCSF has rejected calls, including from Community Care, to publish SCR review findings in full, and the guidance says that only the executive summaries of SCRs need to be made public.

Ofsted will, however, publish six-monthly reports based on the SCRs evaluated during that period, and every second report will provide an in-depth analysis of a key issue, to promote wider learning.

The guidance says SCRs should be completed within six months of the initial decision to launch a review, up from the previous four-month limit.

Independent scrutiny

It also stresses the importance of independent scrutiny: chairs of SCR panels should not be a member of the local safeguarding children board (LSCB), unless they are independent chairs; the author of the SCR overview report should be independent of the LSCB; and each LSCB responsible for an SCR evaluated as inadequate by Ofsted has to set up a panel chaired by an independent person to reconsider the review.

In such a case, the LSCB must, within three months, submit to Ofsted an action plan addressing the inadequacies of the SCR. The consultation on the revised draft guidance runs until 23 October.

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