Saturday, 18 March 2017

Corbyn on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

I was sorry to hear what Britain’s Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, recently said about the need for mandatory reporting of child abuse, albeit focused on child protection in sport.

I agree that anyone who suspects child abuse and neglect should always report it. And I agree that this should be reflected in policy and guidance. But that is very different from the arguments of those who support mandatory reporting, who want to see a criminal offence of failing to report, backed by criminal sanctions, probably substantial sentences of imprisonment.

The most likely impact of introducing criminal sanctions for failing to report, targeted at people who work with children, will be to heighten the already prevalent culture of fear and blame surrounding working with child abuse and neglect.

I want people who have concerns about a child to feel free to discuss those concerns with colleagues and managers to determine what should be done in the best interests of the child. I don’t want professionals to be faced with a situation in which they feel that their first priority is to ensure that they themselves are protected from prosecution.

The reality of child abuse and neglect is that usually those who first notice it in a particular family or situation are never quite sure about what they are seeing. Can it really be that this child is being abused? Our natural first reaction is often “surely not”. At that point what is required is not the threat of prison if you happen to make the wrong decision. What is required is the right kind of support from people with more experience and insight to reflect on, and tease out, what is really happening. If then abuse seems to be likely, a referral can be made with confidence.

Imagine a teacher who discovers that a child in her class, about whom she has had no previous concerns, is being assessed for abuse and neglect. Will she feel free to speak openly about her past dealings with the child and family if there is a realistic prospect of her being prosecuted, especially if, as is often the case with the benefit of hindsight, things that appeared to have had an innocent explanation now turn out to be sinister? More likely she will resort to taking legal advice and where possible exercise her right to silence and, of course, that will do nothing to help the child.

And, if there is an inquiry into what went wrong in that case, will that teacher feel confident in cooperating fully with that inquiry and openly talking about what may be seen as her own mistakes and failings? If she risks punishment, I think not. The outcome will be that she will remain stumm and, as a result, important learning will not take place, the inevitable consequence of a culture of blame and fear.

Mandatory reporting, backed by the threat of criminal sanction, does not make children safer. It just gives those who want someone to punish when things go wrong some easy targets. 

Pay - how to dissatisfy child protection workers

Pay is what Herzberg called a ‘hygiene’ factor – a possible source of dissatisfaction but not a motivator.

Whatever investment bankers tell you, you don’t get high performance simply by paying people lots of money. More important are factors such as job satisfaction, recognition and opportunities for personal growth.

But paying people badly can make them very dissatisfied. It can piss them off. It can convey a message that they are not valued. At worst, it can make it financially difficult for them to do the job, when their pay is less than they need to keep a roof over their heads or feed their families.

So a report from the Resolution Foundation makes for worrying reading.

It summarises the situation on public sector pay in Britain as follows:
“… the picture is similar in education, health and social work, and public administration (which covers most other roles). Indeed, on these projections average real pay in these sectors in 2019-20 would be lower than in 2004-05, meaning over 15 years of lost pay growth. In public sector education, real pay in 2016 was already lower than in 2003 and is now set to fall further, while health and social work could face a further 6 per cent real fall by 2019-20.” (page 4)
You can’t go on paying children’s social workers and other public sector workers involved in child protection less and less and expect it to have no impact. You can have all the recruitment campaigns you want, but you will not retain staff if you keep cutting their pay in real terms.

It’s a simple fact of life – it's not rocket science.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Stop blaming, start learning

You don’t need to go much further than a very interesting report in Community Care to see how the blame culture results in services which are less safe.

A stressed and struggling social worker is reported to have falsified records in order to avoid being publicly named and shamed by her manager. Apparently, the manager circulated a group email to colleagues each week, listing all instances of work which had not been completed within the required time scales.

That blame and fear of blame are the primary enemies of safety is now a well-established fact. Civil aviation has taken this lesson to heart and has devised systems and practices to make it easy for people to talk about their mistakes and failings, so that things can be put right before disasters happen.

Any manager who creates conditions in which members of staff fear to report things going wrong is acting contrary to the interests of her or his organisation and, most importantly, to the interests of those to whom services are delivered. It isn’t just bad practice, it is dangerous practice.

A good introduction to how civil aviation thinking can inform safety debates in health and other fields is provided in a recent ITV programme. Trevor Dale, a former airline pilot, explains how the blame culture works against safety in the NHS. It is well worth half-an hour of your time watching it, if you haven’t done so already.

The overall message is clear: stop blaming, start learning. 

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Mandatory Reporting in New South Wales

I am currently in Australia. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald this week I noticed an interesting article about mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.

It was reported that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had heard evidence that the New South Wales child abuse hotline is “clogged” with almost half of reports made in 2016 not meeting the criteria for statutory action. One hundred child protection caseworkers were said to be necessary to handle reports of cases which did not meet the criteria for statutory action. Mandatory reporting was said to be part of the problem. The Royal Commission was told that mandatory reporters and staff of Child Wellbeing Units were reporting matters that didn’t meet the criteria for statutory action nearly 50 per cent of the time.

Like most Australian states and territories, New South Wales has an established system of mandatory reporting in which professionals such as teachers, doctors and police officers have a legal obligation to report child abuse.

The experience here is highly relevant to the discussions which have gone on in Britain, since the death of Daniel Pelka, with many arguing that Britain should copy Australia in introducing a similar mandatory reporting approach.

The experience in New South Wales must give pause for thought. Britain’s child protection system is already under very great stress. To introduce a system that resulted in a significant increase in what appear to be unnecessary referrals would be a reckless step.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Ending the blame game

I liked the post on the Association of Directors of Children’s Services website by Ian Thomas, Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services at Rotherham Council.

Ian argues against the prevalent culture of blame in society and its ramifications for children’s services and concludes that blaming staff for service failures should only happen in a very small number of cases of clear ‘professional negligence’. He concludes: “No one comes to work to deliberately do a bad job.”

One aspect that Ian doesn’t mention is that a blame culture results in unsafe working. Where people are afraid to talk about service failures, and their parts in them, opportunities to learn from things going wrong are significantly reduced. And that means that members of staff and managers have fewer opportunities to create safer and more reliable services.

The only safe services are ones in which everybody involved in service delivery and support are not only willing to explore errors, especially their own, but are actively congratulated and rewarded for doing so.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

OK, so more needs saying …

I was so relieved that the Government has dropped the so-called ‘exemption clauses’ that perhaps I got carried away. There is more to be said as LouiseTickle demonstrates so well in the Guardian. The most important thing to say over and over again is that improvement and innovation are possible without the clauses.
One approach, which Louise does not mention and in which neither Government nor the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has shown much interest hitherto, is Lean.

Lean was originally developed in manufacturing industry, but is equally applicable to services. Its fundamental idea is that it is all too easy to do things which do not contribute to adding value to a product or service. But doing things which don't add value must be avoided at all costs. 

Lean abhors unnecessary bureaucracy, waste, unnecessary overhead and re-work. Organisations become lean by thinking about how to get rid of those evils, usually through making small but frequent changes to business processes to eliminate them. Forms can be simplified, procedures streamlined and management processes simplified. Unproductive and poorly focused ways of working can be eliminated. All kinds of waste can be identified and reduced. Perhaps most importantly focusing on how value is added and thinking about how to reduce re-work are likely to result in higher quality services.

Rather than focusing on removing legislation to create space for improvement, as the Government had proposed, Lean children’s services would concentrate on getting rid of barriers to high quality services such as unnecessary forms and procedures, poorly designed IT, unfocused working practices (such as unnecessary meetings and unnecessarily complex procedures) and unproductive tiers of management. Every new working practice, and every proposed change to an existing working practice, would be scrutinised to determine exactly how it added-value and whether it could be done better in some other way.

Instances of re-work and other service failures (e.g. repeated investigations following re-abuse, re-assessments following a poor quality initial attempt) would need to be closely examined and scrutinised to determine what had gone wrong and how it can be avoided in future.

All staff would need to be steeped in a culture of abhorring waste and trying to focus all resources on providing value to children and young people and not squandering resources on unproductive overhead or inefficient or unnecessary practices.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Say no more ….

There’s no need for extended comment on the Government’s reported decision to drop the controversial exemption clauses

It’s simply very good news.