Progress on Munro’s social work reforms

wpid-munro-eileen-top-slot.gifIt is almost a year since Professor Eileen Munro published her influential recommendations on child protection social work in England. Ahead of her progress report, due this summer, Community Care presents a snapshot of the progress four local authorities – Cumbria, Coventry, Devon and Surrey – are making against five of the key recommendations

1. Initial and core assessments should be replaced with a single, ongoing assessment; statutory assessment deadlines and forms should be scrapped

Baby on swing

CUMBRIA is one of the pilot councils trialling flexibilities around assessments and timescales. “We looked exclusively at the single assessment as we felt social workers still needed the discipline of timescales,” says Catherine Witt, senior manager for social care. They had “really good” feedback from families and better engagement with them across the board. Cumbria is rolling the approach out across its three districts and extending it beyond child protection, right down to common assessment framework level. “If there’s a single assessment there needs to be a common language that follows through for a family,” Witt says.

COVENTRY council is also keen to implement flexibilities but is reluctant to move away from statutory guidance without government agreement, explains Colin Green, director of children, learning and young people.

DEVON council is in a similar position, but the authority is trying to prepare staff so they can move quickly when the change happens. “For example, we’re tracking the average time it takes to complete assessments, rather than whether it has met the 10-day time limit,” says Rory McCallum, head of child and adult protection.

SURREY council also feels its hands are tied until the government makes a decision. “But it’s not just about assessments so we’re focusing on training, culture and IT,” says Julie Shepherd, Surrey’s service development manager and lead on social work reform and the Munro recommendations.

3. Every council should appoint a principal social worker to champion practice

Principal social worker 

CUMBRIA is still consulting on what the principal social worker role will look like, Witt says.

COVENTRY has looked at the role, including the possibility of adapting an existing service manager role, but Green says the recommendation is not a priority for the council at the moment.

DEVON already had five governance leads across adults and children’s services, a role, which McCallum says, “seemed to fit perfectly with the principal social worker role.” “They currently undertake the health check, sit on adoption panels and conduct frontline peer review. We are not going to allocate them a caseload.”

SURREY already has a principal social worker in place. Shepherd says: “My deputy was a trained social worker and was already acting as a champion for social work. It was everyone’s considered opinion that she fitted the role perfectly.”

5. Better early help should be provided and its effectiveness monitored

Baby on swing

CUMBRIA is examining how to measure outcomes from a common assessment framework (CAF) assessment, Witt says, and how to measure whether they are “getting it right first time”. “Of all the five I think this is the most difficult, particularly during a period of austerity,” Witt says. “At the moment it does feel like we’re having a lot of circular conversations.”

COVENTRY is in the midst of a major review of early intervention, examining how to measure its impact and focus it on the families who need it most. “It is difficult because effectively you are trying to measure something that hasn’t happened,” Green admits. “While you have the grander statements of the Graham Allen report showing immense cost savings over a generation, it is much harder to say what savings you can make over two years locally.”

“We’re trying to get to a point where we have co-ownership of cases between professionals, but use social work expertise to stop problems escalating,” says McCallum.

DEVON is using the multi-agency safeguarding hub (MASH) to pick up intelligence, and where the children in a family hit a number of risk indicators on a matrix the authority “does a deep dive on the shared intelligence on those families and decides what is needed to help the family and who’s going to do it.”

SURREY is trying to focus on early years and children’s centres. “We haven’t closed any so it’s a considerable resource that we need to ensure we’re making the most of in terms of early intervention,” Shepherd says.

2. The delivery of child protection social work should be reviewed and redesigned.

Sad Face

The change to the single assessment has been CUMBRIA’S vehicle for redesigning social work practice, Witt says. “For example, in the pilots we had weekly debriefs and we’re now putting that in place for all our social work teams to encourage reflective practice,” she adds.

COVENTRY has been busy building its workforce and reducing the use of agency staff. The authority now has practice educator roles in its social work teams and is recruiting therapists. “That seems to be having a real impact on practice,” Green says. He continues: “We’ve introduced sub-teams who know each other’s cases and discuss them regularly. We’re doing a lot of work to reduce caseloads. Our target is 15 per social worker but we’re at about 18 currently.”

DEVON wants to encourage its social workers to be part of the change. “We don’t want service redesign to be top-down imposed change,” McCallum says. “What seems to be coming back from social workers is that we need to move away from repeat opening and closing of cases and thresholds. We need social workers to get involved, perhaps on a consultant basis, much earlier on and then move in and out of that family when they are needed,” he says.

SURREY has just advertised for four consultant senior practitioners who will report to the principal social worker (see recommendation 3). The roles won’t be case holding, Shepherd says, because their job is to “drive forward the Munro recommendations and ensure social workers have ownership of the Munro agenda”. The council also has a new partnership with Kingston University, which ensures Surrey’s social workers gain the right skills. In turn the council has given a concrete assurance on providing quality placements for students.

4. The director of children’s services role and functions should be protected


CUMBRIA is keeping the director of children’s services (DCS) role “because we feel it gives a real focus and direction for children’s services,” Witt says. “Nationally children aren’t very high on the political agenda so we need to keep them high on the local agenda,” she adds.

COVENTRY has a directorate of children’s services and no plans to change it.

DEVON has a “people directorate”, but McCallum does not believe the focus on children has been diluted in any way. “My role as head of child and adult protection means we can get a better grip on the issues that cross both areas like substance misuse and parental mental health,” he says.

Like Coventry, SURREY has a directorate of children’s services and no immediate plans to change this, but there “probably will be movement on that because of the families and parenting agenda,” Shepherd says.

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