A pilot plan to scrap statutory deadlines in child protection work has the potential to transform the confidence and standing of social workers, according to experts.
Professor Eileen Munro announced in her second interim report last week that five local authorities – Cumbria, Knowsley, Westminster, Hackney and Gateshead – would be allowed to complete certain assessments and hold child protection conferences within timescales they thought best met children’s needs.
The trials, expected to be endorsed by ministers, would be rigorously monitored to ensure the safety and welfare of children and to minimise delays.
Nushra Mansuri, joint England manager of the British Association of Social Workers, now renamed BASW – the College of Social Work, said it was an example of the “kind of risks we need to be taking, for the right reasons”.
“These trials, and the potential for flexibility to spread throughout the country, really present a light at the end of the tunnel for social workers. The true potential of professionalism can be harnessed, giving practitioners that much more confidence,” she said.
Isabelle Trowler, Hackney’s assistant director for children’s social care who is overseeing the borough’s possible trial, said the current system was geared solely towards meeting specified timescales and the pilot would instead help promote thoughtful, intellectual practice.
“Over the past decade child protection workers have been quite managerially driven, but what should determine the right timescale instead is the professional view of how long a process should take,” she said. “What it’s really important to do is protect against drift, where cases can get lost.”
However, Paul Fallon, independent chair of Essex Safeguarding Children Board, pointed out that even if the experiment was a success in the five chosen councils, it did not necessarily mean it would be successful nationwide.
“Its success really depends on the quality of management, supervision, and frontline staff. If all departments were operating with that top range of quality universally, then all these checks and balances wouldn’t be necessary. But for the moment, I think the sector has to fix the leadership and supervision within children’s services before this system is going to be possible.”
Munro told Community Care that even if a serious child protection incident occurred while the trials were in operation it would not affect the overall decision about such a move nationally.
“People need to know that no matter how effective a child protection system is, you can’t prevent all child deaths,” she told Community Care after her interim report’s launch. “If an incident does occur during the trials, we would try to present it clearly in those terms.”
The trial will last beyond the period of the Munro review, and evidence available at the end of the period would be considered by the government when responding to Munro’s final report. Trial arrangements with the five councils had not been finalised when Community Care went to press.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails
For all related articles go to our Munro review special report page