Munro: Early intervention legal duty for councils

Councils should legally have to provide early intervention services to families according to Professor Eileen Munro's (pictured) review of child protection in England.

Councils should legally have to provide early intervention services to families according to the Munro Review.

In her final report on England’s child protection system, Professor Eileen Munro recommended the government place a statutory duty on local authorities and their partners to ensure enough provision of early intervention services.

Under this duty, councils would need to make every child and family who fell beneath child protection thresholds an “early help offer” of tailored services and resources.

Councils would also need to specify:

● The range of help on offer from professionals.

● How staff in universal services, such as teachers and health visitors, can access social work expertise to better identify children at risk of significant harm.

● What child protection training is available for early intervention services staff.

● What level of resourcing will be devoted to early intervention services.

The report stated: “During the course of this review, there has been concerning evidence that early support and preventative services are the target for cuts and efficiencies in this financial year because of the constrained financial situation at the present time. Since preventative services do more to reduce abuse and neglect than reactive services, this review considers attention to co-ordinating services, such as is being attempted through community budgets, essential. With significant reforms under way in all the main public services, there is a further risk of inefficiencies if reforms do not take account of the repercussions for other services.”

She said that, although the co-ordination of early intervention services was best delivered locally, the government needed to provide a clear legal framework to set out what vulnerable children and young people and their families should expect from local agencies.

Munro also said councils should be freed up to alter the Common Assessment Framework assessment model.

“There is conflicting evidence on whether the form is contributing to improved practice,” the report added.

Early intervention assessments should include an appraisal of the level of expertise to deal with problems.

“For example, although a child may only show low levels of harm from having a drug-abusing mother, dealing with the mother’s drug addiction is not a low-level problem,” Munro said.

However, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said such a duty would also need to be accompanied by extra resources from central government.

Its president, Matt Dunkley, said the paybacks on early intervention services were long-term, funding for early intervention had been reduced by central government and children’s social care services were receiving more referrals.

“If local authorities and their partners are to invest in early help, in developing the workforce and in developing a broader vision for providing help to children and families, central government will need to provide additional funding to make this possible,” Dunkley said.

The National Children’s Bureau agreed, adding that the funding available for early help had been reduced by 22% since March 2010. Chief executive Sir Paul Ennals said: “This seems like shutting the stable door too late. The funding available for early help has been reduced by 22% since March 2010.”

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