All children’s services departments should develop triage arrangements to swiftly assess and prioritise child protection cases, while interventions require a ‘radical’ rethink.
Both are among the recommendations made today by Lord Carlile of Berriew, following his analysis of child protection in Doncaster. The QC was asked to review the situation at the troubled council, following the full serious case review into a violent attack in Edlington, south Doncaster, by two looked-after children in 2009.
Carlile said his recommendation of triage arrangements would include “fast and profoundly co-operative interdisciplinary co-working, excellent written and electronic document trails, and a demonstrable ability to respond to urgent situations efficiently”.
Reforms across child protection system
Although his review focuses on Doncaster’s missed opportunities to prevent the 2009 attacks, both Carlile and education secretary Michael Gove said they wanted the report to consider reforms across the entire child protection system.
In his report – described as “compelling” by Gove – Carlile recommends a radical rethink of the way interventions are currently assessed and dealt with, saying there was “disquiet” over the assumption that a child’s best place “is with their natural parents wherever possible”.
One alternative approach, he suggested, is that parents of children subject to care proceedings should have to prove their parenting capacity if their child is involved in a criminal incident, reported to the police, on three or more occasions.
There should be an annual report in Doncaster, and elsewhere, to monitor compliance with the Troubled Families Programme, with a simple scoring system devised so that local authority performance can be compared nationally.
On serious case reviews, Carlile recommended they be produced in open and closed formats, where the open version is a fully informative document, without redactions, and that a designated family justice should participate as an adviser in every SCR.
“This is likely to lead to improved and recognised formats for such reports, a reduction in their length, and a significantly increased capacity for lessons from one SCR to be learned and applied by the material statutory services in other locations,” he said.
Government intervention ‘not working’
Cllr David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said the report shows Whitehall intervention isn’t working.
“We are keen to have conversations with the Department for Education about how the sector can help in those councils where direct government intervention has not brought about much needed improvement, but we can’t let the debate around who provides services overshadow the most important issue – the safety of our children,” Simmonds said.
Bridget Robb, acting chief of the British Association of Social Workers, said: “The Carlile report does not exist in a vacuum, and any reforms must be properly funded, all while public services are being hacked to the bone by the government.
‘Punitive approach’ to struggling families
“We need to be careful about the direction of travel here regarding the problems in Doncaster and other local authorities. Taking a punitive approach to struggling families is not the answer. Such “troubled” families are crying out for preventative services, but they are simply not there. Letting them get into difficulty then punishing them for it is counter-productive.”
The review coincides with a damning report from Ofsted that found safeguarding services in Doncaster are still inadequate, despite three years of government intervention.
Director of children’s services, Chris Pratt, admitted “features of that systematic failure remain today”, but said the reports acknowledge some progress has been made.
Michael Gove launches damning attack on child protection system