This article was first published by Children & Young People Now.
How does a child make the journey from needing to receiving? From abuse and neglect to real and effective protection and care? This harrowing but vitally important problematic is addressed in The Child’s Journey, a second offering from Professor Eileen Munro’s review of child protection.
Published on 1 February, this is a direct assault on bureaucracy and unthinking process-led approaches.
There’s plenty of sensible stuff here. Cutting down on paperwork so that social workers can spend more time with children. Extending the amount of time and effort devoted to quality supervision. Making sure there are a range of different experts that social workers can call on to meet each child’s individual needs.
But it doesn’t stop there, and doesn’t fight shy of more controversial territory. This report advocates, for example, removal of Ofsted’s power to evaluate serious case reviews into child deaths, and an end to pre-planned checks of children’s services — through the simple but harsh expedient of making all inspections unannounced.
Munro is not working in a bubble — she links her work to other policy reviews, and makes useful connections between child protection and early years, early intervention and child poverty. She also links child protection to commissioning and co-production.
Naturally in the harsh economic climate of the spending review there is a recurring theme in all the policy reviews that change provides an opportunity to ‘do things differently’ and much cheaper. But protecting children and preventing injury or death from abuse or neglect is a complicated task. So Munro is working closely with a handful of local authorities including Cumbria, Gateshead, Hackney, Knowsley and Westminster to road test their ideas and practice.
This may be why on reading the review one can be forgiven for feeling that it doesn’t contribute anything terribly new. Professor Munro’s arrival may have seen Lord Laming’s exit, or at least the end of the team set up to implement his initiatives. But there remain strong similarities. The recommendations of the Social Work Task Force or Social Work Reform Board are largely intact. The Integrated Casework System will be reformed, not abolished. And the desire to free social workers from process so they can think laterally when faced with children needing support remains a key plank of the required reform.
This report offers a very clear, concise and informative analysis of the key issues facing the child’s journey. The need for change is compelling. It is hoped that Munro’s work will stimulate debate and discussion throughout the children’s profession on how bring real improvements to child protection. Next up will be the report on ‘ways to remove the burden from social workers’. Hopefully this will look at new technology such as that advanced by the Safeguarding Web 2.0 project.
The issue of whether or not the change required in child protection can be realised remains open. We know that early intervention and prevention saves money in the long term. But with cuts to services nationally, regionally and locally you can’t help but wonder if anyone will be left to deliver a much needed transformation of child protection.