The Prime Minister has announced a ‘task force’ on child protection to “…to drive forward fundamental reforms to protect the most vulnerable children.”
Apparently it will consider reforms to the quality of children’s social work practice and leadership, promoting innovative models of delivery and overhauling the way that police, social services and other agencies work together locally.
I always feel a little queasy at the mention of ‘fundamental reforms’. In policy matters this is generally code for ill-informed and ill-considered changes designed to result in favourable headlines in the popular press. But hey-ho, I thought, perhaps it will be different this time??
Then I read on to see the names of those who will be the members of this task force. All twelve will be senior government ministers. I can’t help asking what they actually know about the quality of children’s social work practice or innovative models of delivery or ways of overhauling the way that agencies work together locally.
One thing seems a certain bet. None of them will ever have had to stand on a doorstep on a cold night knowing that when the door is opened mum or dad will have to be told that this is a child protection visit; or to sit and listen to an agonising disclosure by an abused child; or to experience the wrath of parents whose child has been taken away.
Child protection in Great Britain does not need to be reformed top-down. Rather two things need to happen, both from the bottom-up. The first is that policy makers need to create the conditions in which those who do the work, and so understand the issues and processes, can contribute to a sustained process of continuous improvement. The second is that we all need to listen much more closely to what children and young people can tell us about their experiences of abuse and neglect and of being protected from it.
All that we know about the management of quality and change suggests that the impact of top-down imposed change is usually confusion and chaos followed by a gradual return to the status quo. There is little point in that, unless, of course, the purpose of the exercise is not safer children but more of those favourable headlines.