Previous attempts to improve child protection have been implemented with little attempt to engage with those on the frontline.
Professor Eileen Munro must then be congratulated for at least seeking views from frontline social workers to inform her final report on child protection, due at the end of April.
Just before Christmas, through Community Care, she asked social workers for their opinions on a series of questions (see panel, below). She has insisted since that these were not the only questions she is addressing in her review after CareSpace users and experts noted gaps in her interest, including on caseloads or multi-agency working in child protection cases.
The questions have sparked debate among social workers over what factors prevent practitioners forming effective relationships with children and families.
“I would say this is probably the most important question of all,” says Paul Fallon, independent chair of Essex Safeguarding Children Board. “In the last five or six serious case reviews I’ve been involved with, the episodic nature of modern social work has led to a catastrophic failure to take a long-term, over-arching view of risk. I believe this episodic approach has been driven by a desire to close cases quickly.
“Building relationships with families takes longer than we can afford and the result is repeat assessments, which lead nowhere.”
Nushra Mansuri, joint England manager of the British Association of Social Workers, agrees. “Developing these relationships is firstly about having legitimate time to spend with children, which is often given such low priority compared to paperwork,” she says.
“Direct work is a craft and should not just be seen in terms of where it might fit into the assessment process.”
She believes Munro is right to investigate the option of ongoing assessment because it would help resurrect “professional judgement”.
This belief is not universally accepted, though. “I would be concerned about assessment as an ongoing activity,” says Steve Cameron, an independent social worker and trainer based in Bristol. “Too often I have found authorities more willing to prolong the assessment process than make a clear decision with regard to child welfare that may mean initiating care proceedings or accepting costly care packages. I have found this particularly in entrenched neglect cases.”
Many want child protection professionals to engage more with the media.
“The main barrier is the attitude and arrogance of tabloids and some of the broadsheet press looking to sensationalise and allocate blame about child protection cases,” says Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University. “I don’t think we have any alternative but to engage as much as we can with the media and try to shape the story, particularly when the going gets tough.”
Retired social worker Philip Measures agrees. “Media training is essential and also having a range of faces to present. The media, the public and even many professionals are fed up with the ‘script’ too often produced of excuses and the ‘lessons will be learned’ mantra.”
1 What prescribed procedures and forms do you feel are unnecessary or duplicate work?
2 What factors prevent you forming relationships with children and families or offering appropriate interventions?
3 What child protection data should be collected to ensure local authorities are publicly accountable?
4 How can we create a system for learning from practice which counteracts blame?
5 What are the main barriers to child protection social workers working effectively with the media? How could they be overcome?
6 What expertise do universal services need locally to better identify children’s needs?
7 Would it be better if assessment was an ongoing activity rather than one defined by set points with set timescales?
8 Some areas have introduced social work led, multi-agency locality teams to decide if a formal child protection response is needed in cases. Do you think this is useful?
To answer any of the questions email Professor Munro on firstname.lastname@example.org, heading the email “Munro Review Questions”. Include the number/s of the question you are answering and indicate your role or your interest in the review.
You can also join the discussion among frontline workers on Carespace, take our survey on how child protection must change or email email@example.com. Deadline for responses is 24 January and they will feed into the final report from the Munro Review.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
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Munro’s questions to social workers