What makes for a successful serious case review?

The Scie model for serious case reviews currently being trialled is receiving positive feedback from the pilot schemes. Molly Garboden asks what is required for a successful review

Neil Jarman (left) interim director of Doncaster children’s services and chief superintendant Bob Sanderson.

The Scie model for serious case reviews, which is currently being trialled, is receiving positive feedback from the pilot schemes. Molly Garboden asks what is required for a successful review

Whatever the eventual fate of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the organisation may leave its mark on the sector if its model for serious case reviews is taken up nationally.

Directors of children’s services like the model. It has friends in high places with Professor Eileen Munro, chair of the government’s child protection review, involved in its creation; and, so far, the pilots in Wirral, Salford and Lancashire have reported positive results.


SCRs have been increasingly contentious in recent years, with public interest rising in the Peter Connelly case in Haringey and the abuse of two children in Edlington, South Yorkshire. Many say the reports are too focused on blame with not enough attention given over to learning lessons.

However, some believe too little thought is being given to clarifying the purpose of a SCR in the first place.

“Before we agree on a model we have to take a step back and confirm what we think these things are for, particularly in light of the government’s decision to publish them in full,” says Paul Fallon, independent chair of Essex Safeguarding Children Board. “The other difficulty with deciding a new model is that no single system is going to satisfy everybody in terms of what they expect from serious case reviews. Every party has a different opinion, so these things need to be thought through carefully.”

SCR author Stephen Cameron believes a change to the Scie model is necessary to remove the reviews from their unwanted status as media and political footballs.

“SCRs are supposed to be about learning lessons but quite a few can end up in ­disciplinary proceedings, which in some cases may have more to do with appeasing the media and politicians rather than ­generating new light,” he says.

“The Scie model involves getting closer to the staff, across different agencies, and bringing them along with the discourse of the review rather than them needing to feel that the SCR is totally top-down and that they are being done unto.”

Shelia Fish, a senior research analyst for Scie who helped create the alternative system, says this is the key difference between the two models.

“Practitioners involved in the case are actively involved in this process. Rather than starting with individual management reviews, senior managers from across agencies work together to analyse both single agency working and also, critically, the interplay between agencies.”

There are fears that such an intensive system will take up even more time than SCRs do now, leaving local safeguarding children boards even less time for other duties such as training.

“Although some thought the Scie model took less time than the current system and some that there was not much difference, there’s been agreement across the pilots that the time required was well spent,” Fish says.

She adds that, because Ofsted has no role in approving the reviews, time is also saved.

“We’ve been in dialogue with Ofsted throughout this work, sharing experience of the pilots in the context of Ofsted’s ­evaluation framework revision, but quality assurance is an aspect built into the Scie model,” Fish says.

“Opportunities for challenge are built in through making the review team multi-agency and having them work together from the beginning.”

However, Ian Rush, independent chair of Manchester’s Safeguarding Children Board and member of the steering group for the north-west pilots, says, although the trials have been positive so far, it is too soon to roll them out nationally.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” he says. “The challenge we’re facing is finding the most efficient way of learning lessons quickly in a way that’s straightforward and easy for local authorities to do.

Good practice

Manchester Council is the first to produce an SCR rated “outstanding” by Ofsted. According to Ian Rush, independent chair of Manchester’s local safeguarding board, the success, has come by learning from mistakes.

“We did one SCR that Ofsted rated inadequate,” he says. “As a result of that shock, we decided we needed to have a completely fresh look at the way we did them.”

Rush says the council’s first step was to retrain the writers of internal management reviews to pull together to create SCRs. It then retrained senior managers in each agency to quality-assure those reviews. Rush says these steps have made a “considerable difference” to the quality of Manchester’s SCRs. He says that, since the training, work on the reviews has become more streamlined and consistent.

It has also become more focused on the positive, which Rush believes is more conducive to learning in the sector.

“With most SCRs, you tend to read a catalogue of perceived and actual failures,” he says. “What we try to do is blend that with an emphasis on what works and how we can be doing more to take that positive action forward.”

Scie TV has a film detailing the experiences of two people who took part in a case review using the Scie approach and interviews with directors of children’s services about why they are keen to adopt the model nationally. To watch the film click on this link. You can click here to read more about the key concepts of the approach.

Related articles

Support for reform of SCRs gathers momentum

First serious case review to be marked outstanding by Ofsted

‘Publishing SCRs in full would attract less media attention’

This article is published in the 5 August 2010 issue of Community Care under the heading “Understanding why in serious case reviews”

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