There are some things that are so simple that most people don’t consciously think of them. As a result they seldom get said or written down. In wider discussions of the issues they are often ignored.
A very simple thought of that kind occurred to me the other day. It goes like this: for any service there are three sources of knowledge that must be drawn on to achieve an improvement in the service:
· The experience of those receiving the service
· Knowledge about the technology on which the service is based
· The experience of those who deliver the service
Applying this to child protection is straightforward. In order to improve child protection services we need to:
· Capture and evaluate the experience and reactions of children and young people who receive services
· Critically discuss research about the causes and effects of child maltreatment and what needs to be done to reduce its prevalence
· Capture and evaluate the experience and reactions of the people who deliver services – what goes wrong and what goes right and how things could be done better
In the academic world most effort is focused on the second of these sources of knowledge – the phenomenon of child maltreatment and the technology of intervention. There is some limited research about the other two, but it is very limited. When policy makers talk about ‘lessons from research’ they usually mean academic research.
My view is that sustained and lasting improvement in child protection will only come about if everybody engaged in planning, delivering, researching and evaluating services focuses on each of these areas of knowledge and helps to develop them. A great deal could be done within all organisations involved in child protection to capture and evaluate the experiences of children and young people and the experiences of workers; and to capture their ideas about how services could be improved. But sadly that is not happening in any widespread or consistent way, with the result that services remain stuck in a rut and subject to the whims of ill-informed policy makers and self-appointed ‘experts’.