Fear over plans to “slaughter” child protection guidance

Ministers are planning to "slaughter" key child safeguarding guidance as part of measures to tackle bureaucracy in children's services, Community Care understands. (Image: Rex features)

Ministers are planning to “slaughter” key child safeguarding guidance as part of measures to tackle bureaucracy in children’s services, Community Care understands.

Social work sources have said they fear the government is planning to radically reduce the document, Working Together to Safeguard Children, from more than 300 pages to as few as 60, or even 10, at the request of education secretary Michael Gove.

The government announced it would revise the guidance last year to comply with Eileen Munro’s recommendations on reducing bureaucracy.

But the professional advisory group – made up of civil servants and representatives from Ofsted, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the College of Social Work – is taking the revisions “much further than anyone expected,” according to one source.

The source said ministers are planning to “slaughter” the guidance and reduce it to little more than a “pamphlet”.

A consultation on the proposed revisions was due shortly, ahead of the finalised guidance in July, but Community Care understands both have been delayed.

“Civil servants, responding to government directives, will drastically reduce this guidance at their peril,” said Liz Davies, a reader in child protection at London Metropolitan University. “Working Together is the most important document for the protection of children,” she said.

“It is the basis of consistent national and local good practice and training for practitioners and managers in all statutory and voluntary agencies.

“It is invaluable in providing detailed protocols for the investigation of harm to children, and the targeting of perpetrators. These are known to work well and ensure a strong basis for professional accountability,” she said.

“It is an extremely dangerous initiative to reduce the protection of children to an exercise in reducing page numbers,” Davies added.

Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for the British Association of Social Workers, said there were sensible ways of revising the document. “It is far too reductionist to cut it to 10 pages,” she said. “We’d like to see two versions. One for practitioners with the most important points and a more substantial policy document.”

“It needs simplifying in terms of accessing information, perhaps with a clear online version, but we don’t need dilution. You can’t take out core child protection guidance.”

Mansuri also expressed concerns that there are no frontline social workers on the advisory group.

“Not only was BASW excluded from the group, which we have made strong respresentations about, but the practitioner voice is not there,” she said. “There is a danger of over interference by central government. Who are the experts doing this work every day?”

Davies also said she did not believe Eileen Munro, in her critique of bureaucracy, “intended for guidance about how to investigate child abuse to be minimised or altered”.

“The government is intent on reducing statutory requirements to save money on monitoring and inspection and to reduce the possibility of legal challenge,” she continued.

Working Together, first published in 2006, contains statutory guidance for social workers and is used by a wide range of professionals with concerns about children.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Professor Munro called for local areas to have more freedom to develop their own effective child protection services.

“We are acting on her recommendations to reduce central regulation, prescription and excessive bureaucracy so that professionals have more space to use their professional judgment and more time to spend with children and families.

“We have been completely open, transparent and inclusive working with the front line, and we will be consulting on all the proposed changes to Working Together this summer.”

Inform subscribers: Guide to Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children

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