Embed social workers in universal services, urges Munro

More social workers could be embedded in universal services if a suggestion in Professor Eileen Munro’s latest report is taken up by government.

In the second instalment of her child protection review, published today, Munro supported the idea, which is already in place in some local authorities, as a means of empowering universal services in early intervention work and reducing the number of referrals to children’s social care.

The report said this system created better links between practitioners and better coverage for vulnerable children’s needs.

“This approach allows professionals and practitioners to have access to social work expertise, helping them to make better use of their closer knowledge and engagements with the child and family,” the report said.

“More specifically, the professional anxiety that exists in trying to understand the severity of their concerns about a child is lessened. This [reduction] seems to come from the provision of social work expertise to talk through concerns before a formal assessment or referral is made.”

The report highlighted evidence that the system cuts the number of inappropriate referrals to children’s social care.

Hammersmith and Fulham Council, is one of the local authorities that is already planning to implement the idea.

Under proposals discussed by the council’s cabinet on 10 January, children’s services could be divided between four teams, made up of three multi-agency agency teams, including social workers, to handle lower-risk cases and one specialist child protection team made up of social workers and health visitors.

The cabinet document on the proposal said direct savings from the restructure would be £3.2m, with indirect benefits accruing through expected reductions in the number of looked after children.

Munro has suggested in her report that funding for these multi-agency teams could be shared among the agencies involved, as each agency would benefit.

This is one of several suggestions in Munro’s report that aims to take some of the pressure off children’s social services departments.

Munro has also emphasised the importance of roles such as named and designated health professionals or schools leads for safeguarding, saying they have an important part to play in the child protection system.

Munro said a greater emphasis on universal services would also decrease the number of children suffering because their cases fall just short of child protection thresholds.

“With this level of unmet need, the contribution of universal services and services targeted on high-risk groups is even more important, since they may reach children whose maltreatment has not yet been brought to the attention of children’s social care, or whose situation does not meet the threshold for statutory intervention,” the report said.

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