Social workers should intervene earlier, says Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove has called for social workers to intervene earlier when children are at risk of harm.

Gove today told MPs he was awaiting the report from Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection “but I personally believe social workers need to be given greater confidence to intervene earlier.

“I agree with [Barnardo’s chief executive] Martin Narey and we need to encourage social workers to be more assertive to challenge the behaviour of certain families.”

Gove’s comments were made to the House of Commons’ education select committee which was considering the local government financial settlement.

They came on the same day as research from the University of Loughborough showed that parents who could change their behaviour and take care of their children usually did so before the child was six months old. However, many children in the study were still with abusive parents three years later and were showing serious developmental problems.

In the past, Narey has claimed that social workers ought to take more children into care earlier, particularly those who are neglected and abused.

Gove was also questioned about the early intervention grant and the front-loading of cuts to councils. He said it was a political decision that had been taken to show the government was grappling with the economic situation quickly.

“We know the consequences for local authorities will be difficult,” he said. “Although there is less cash, all the other things that local councils felt were preventing them achieve the best results, we’ve tried to take them all away.”

He said the early intervention grant had been calculated so that 70% of its funding should match that for early years and 30% for interventions with teenagers, although he agreed that services for adolescents needed reform. He said schools would now have direct funding to provide or commission some of those services, including child and adolescent mental health services.

On keeping the statutory restrictions on Sure Start children’s centres, Gove said councils would need to consult if they tried to merge any of them. But they ought to be thinking imaginatively about what other providers might be charged to provide services from children’s centres.

He said local authorities should be free to determine how payment-by-results operated in their area but some “results” measurements ought to be set centrally, including the success of early years settings in reaching children from less privileged backgrounds and the readiness of children to start school.

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