Fundamental Review Needed Into Child Protection

Fundamental Review Needed Into Child Protection

A panel of government advisers have stated that a forthcoming government review into care, must include a fundamental inquiry into the child protection system.

The Safeguarding Practice Review Panel includes Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for children, and former Children’s Minister Edward Timpson.

A report by the panel analysed local reviews of 538 serious child abuse or neglect in England from July 2018 to December 2019.

The report has highlighted that safeguarding in these cases, was beset by persistent problems, including optimism bias, weak risk assessment and poor information sharing. These problems have been said to be rooted in systemic issues, including the workload pressures of practitioners and the impact of poverty on families.

On the 2nd March 2020 the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, announced that there would be an independent review of the children’s social care system, enabling to go further to provide children with more support. The key questions for the review are:

  • How should protection services be organised on the ground?
  • How can the information being exchanged be strengthened for risk assessment and decision making?
  • Understand what knowledge and skillsets are needed to make good protective decisions about children.
  • How should skillsets be developed, who can develop them and to what national standards.
  • To what extent are existing child protection procedures the right ones?
  • Are there effective checks and balances in the system?
  • How can we best use evidence to enhance multi-agency working?
  • What should be the focus in building new evidence to support practice?

The report stated:

“We think it imperative that the scope of the review is firmly focused, although not exclusively so, on the effectiveness of child protection practice and considers the questions we have set out…

“To our minds, there is no question that there is a need to address these systemic issues, such is the frequency with which we have seen the same practice concerns raised in the serious case reviews and rapid reviews submitted to us.”

In cases that the panel reviewed, 54% of them had children’s social care were working with the child at the time of the incident.

The panel found that risk assessment was ‘weak’ in 41% of the cases considered, stating that “in too many of the detailed explorations of practice we have seen, we are sure that different decisions could and should have been made”.

The report also found that 32% of cases suffered from optimism bias, which was linked to high workloads as well as poor information sharing in 40% of cases.

“A system that often lacks clarity of purpose, with high workload and conditions of uncertainty, is destined to hope for the best,” the report said. While it said it was not easy to fix, the report said it was “time to do something about it, and at the very least limit the worst outcomes.

“We need to move beyond the legislative and procedural, to the technological and the behavioural, and forensically explore how we can develop our multi-agency and multi-disciplinary practice in routine ways, and at critical points, which strengthens information sharing, risk assessment and decision making,”

Claudia Megele, Chair of the Principal Children and Families Social Worker Network was pleased with the report, stating that it showed “clear opportunities for further improvement in practice and decision making”.

She also added:

“However, the fact that these have remained as common and consistent themes in serious case reviews over the past four decades calls for reflection and more critical examination of risk management and decision-making processes across safeguarding partnerships and the significant pressures and systemic issues due to continued impact of austerity and lack of due prioritisation of social care services on national agenda”

As well as the report into children’s’ safeguarding, there had also been a separate report into the system’s response to criminal exploitation in children; examining cases of 21 young people.

This report found that there were no common risk predictors present in the lives of many of the affected children, with only two of them being children looked after and the remainder living at home with parents or family and had not been known to social care before the problems associated with potential exploitation had occurred.

These findings lead to recommendations that child protection should not just be based on tackling harm from within the home but needed reviewing to better equip services to tackle harm from outside the home. It also stated that the requirements within Working Together were not clear enough about how the guidance could be applied to these cases.

“We recommend that government moves at pace to review Working Together,” it said. “The Department for Education should bring together the relevant stakeholders to explore how best to ensure the narrative and requirements of Working Together reflect the risk of harm from outside the home, with a view to agreeing amendments to the current guidance.”

It was also suggested that the Department of Education should evaluate and fund a trial of a practice framework on criminal exploitation, including development of specialist multidisciplinary teams in each area, with a dedicated budget and permission to work flexibly, outside routine procedures.

Association of Directors of Children’s Services vice-president Jenny Coles said:

“National policies and guidance have fallen behind the realities our practitioners now face in working with young people and their families; the child protection system was originally designed to keep younger children safe from harm located in the family home.”

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.