Munro review: social workers fail children due to focus on rules

Social workers are failing to meet the needs of children because they are too focused on complying with regulations and meeting targets, according to the first instalment of Professor Eileen Munro's (left) review of children's social services in England, published today. (pic credit: Giles Park)

Social workers are failing to meet the needs of children because they are too focused on complying with regulations and meeting targets, according to the first instalment of Professor Eileen Munro’s review of children’s social services in England, published today.

The scoping report puts forward initial observations that will be tested by the review over the next months.

Munro found that:

• compliance with regulation and rules often drives professional practice more than sound judgement drawn from the professional relationship and interaction with a family.

• social workers are frequently blamed when children are harmed.

• serious case reviews have not fostered a learning culture which supports improved practice.

• a lot of data is collected which describes performance but not what matters; this consumes a disproportionate amount of time and resources.

• the performance and inspection systems do not adequately examine the quality of direct work with children and young people or its impact.

• the Integrated Children’s System (ICS) does not help enough in the creation of chronologies.

• social workers spend too much time completing documentation.

• the assessment framework is inefficient and does not easily facilitate professional judgement about risk.

• universal services do not currently offer comprhensive early specialist support.

• there is evidence of inconsistency and uncertainty amongst professionals in universal services in responding to contacts and referrals about vulnerable children and young people.

Munro also expressed concern about the impact of delays in the family courts on the welfare of children and professionals becoming demoralised as organisations fail to recognise the emotional impact of the work they do.

“I want to be clear from the start that there are no simple quick-fix solutions to improving the child protection system,” Munro said. “A key question for the review is why the well-intentioned reforms of the past haven’t worked. Piecemeal changes have resulted in a system where social workers are more focused on complying with procedures. This is taking them away from spending time with children and families and limiting their ability to make informed judgements.

“Professionals should rightly take responsibility when things go wrong, but they need more freedom to make decisions, more support and understanding, and less prescription and censure. Too often social workers are either criticised for breaking up families or for missing a case of abuse. But the system they work in is built around predicting a parent’s ability to look after their child, which is never certain.”

The government also published two research reports on serious case reviews today, which have fed into Munro’s review. The research shows that there is too much emphasis on getting the reports right than learning lessons from them. It said SCRs should focus on good practice more and that there is confusion about what leads to an SCR.

Munro review first instalment

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