Louise Tickle has an interesting article in The Guardian this week.
She visited a primary school that operates a team that focuses on helping neglected pupils. Team members have expertise in family support, early years and child protection. The team appears to duplicate some of the functions of the local authority, especially with respect to early intervention with families where children may be being neglected.
The school’s head argues that the team is necessary because of high local authority thresholds and the subtle nature of neglect, the evidence for which is often patchy and cumulative. Teachers are said to have been reluctant to report suspicions of neglect to the local authority, being unclear when the threshold was reached and fearing the consequences of getting it wrong.
The head teacher sings the praises of the team. Children and their families are being helped earlier and crises are being avoided.
I think that schools based social work is basically a good idea. The NSPCC pioneered school-based teams in the early 2000s but somehow the positive messages from this work never seemed to hit the headlines. It makes sense to base children’s social workers near children, rather than in remote offices, and the school is one obvious place.
That is not to say that school based services are without problems. There need to be clear understandings with the local authority about how formal referrals and emergency action are to be handled and schools-based social workers will often have to wrestle with some difficult confidentiality issues.
Schools-based teams are not an alternative to Children’s Social Care – rather they are a form of complementary provision that can result in services which are more child-focused and which facilitate early intervention.