Serious case reviews to be commissioned by the government, says Timpson

Children's minister criticises the efficacy and quality of Local Safeguarding Children Boards and serious case reviews

The government has announced plans to commission some serious case reviews centrally, rather than leave responsibility with Local Safeguarding Children Boards.

Speaking at the annual conference of Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) chairs, children’s minister Edward Timpson told delegates people have to acknowledge there are, “too many LSCBs which are inadequate”, while the quality, efficacy and even commissioning of serious case reviews (SCRs) still required improvement.

“I’m still concerned about cases where SCRs are not even being commissioned,” Timpson said. “About times when debates over semantics get in the way of finding out what went wrong.  “This may not happen that often, but it happens often enough for me and the [national expert] panel to be concerned,” he said.

The panel had “understandably” questioned the quality of SCRs, Timpson said, adding too many reviews are, “overlong, muddled, full of jargon and acronyms, and missing key pieces of information or analysis”.

SCRs ‘past their sell by date’

To combat this, the Department for Education (DfE) will trial central commissioning of SCRs. Timpson said: “And so we are going to trial the central commissioning of SCRs in some areas, in certain cases, with the permission of selected LSCBs.

“You’ve asked us what a ‘good’ SCR looks like and it’s a fair challenge. So we’ll try to show you.”

As yet, the DfE has not provided any details about how cases will be chosen for central commissioning, nor who will do this work.

A DfE spokesperson said: “LSCBs have asked for further guidance on how the quality of SCRs can be improved, which is why we will pilot the central commissioning of a select number of SCRs.

“LSCBs involved in the trial will do so on a purely voluntary basis and the ultimate statutory responsibility for the review will remain with them, as is the case now.”

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s London, raised serious concerns about the move, saying it was “unfortunate” that the government regarded central commissioning as a priority.

“SCRs are now part of the problem, at an annual cost of £8m to councils. They are gobbling up a tremendous amount of time and money and distracting social workers from direct work with children and families.

“They also skew the work of LSCBs, which now focus on carrying out SCRs and satisfying the government and so-called expert panel that these SCRs are allocating responsibility after a terrible tragedy involving a child.”

He continued: “Accountability increasingly equates with blame and that in its own right is undermining children’s services and making it harder to recruit and retain social workers. SCRs are well past their sell by date and are being used to support the narrative that children’s services are failing. The reality is that people are working very hard in a sector that is at breaking point.”

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