Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Khyra Ishaq - Serious Case Review - still no sign

No sign yet! Apparently we will be able to read the whole thing, when at long last it is published .....

Saturday, 19 June 2010

ContactPoint - more confusion?

Tom Jeffery is quoted on the Kable website as saying "... the government recognises the big investment made on (sic) the system – estimated at £227m over five years – and wants to make appropriate use of it where practicable". So it has been decided to continue maintaining ContactPoint until a decision has been made on a replacement. (

Maybe Tom has never heard the management accountants' adage "Sunk costs are history".  It is only future costs and revenues which matter, not money wasted in the past. If ContactPoint is a dead duck the aim should be to make sure that as little money as possible is now spent on it.

I say move on and switch it off.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

After ContactPoint

Sadly the Government has not abolished ContactPoint forthwith and seems to favour a gradual phasing out. An article in Children and Young People Now (16 June 2010) quotes Department for Education civil servant Tom Jeffrey as saying that it will be axed "... as soon as practicable ... " and that a replacement system "... will help practitioners find out if others are working with vulnerable children...."

A lot depends on what is meant by "vulnerable children". The problem with ContactPoint is that it appeared to be based on the assumption that all children were in some sense vulnerable. There is clearly a great danger that unless "vulnerable" is given a clear  and unambiguous definition we will have son-of-ContactPoint by the back door.

I believe that there is only one group of children and young people for whom there is an unequivocal need for a national database. These are children who have been formally recognised as being at risk of significant harm by being made subject to a Child Protection Plan (what we used to call being on the Child Protection Register). A national database of such children which was available to Children's Social Care, hospital A&E departments and the police would mean that any such child - for example presenting at an A & E department in another city - would be picked-up quickly. And when I say national I mean UK wide, unlike ContactPoint, which was only to be introduced in England.

Hopefully the hardware infrastructure of ContactPoint could be used for this purpose and the limited user-ship would make it more secure.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Social worker shortages - is there a quick fix?

The Nottingham Post reports that Nottingham City Council is apparently experiencing a shortage of children’s social workers with 15 vacant posts out of a total 96 and a further ten positions filled by agency staff. (

Reasons given for this state of affairs are the national shortage of social workers and the fact that social workers are being lured away by better terms and conditions to work for local authorities where the government has intervened because of poor Ofsted reports.

Staff shortages continue to plague child protection social work. After Baby Peter, Ed Balls promised to look at ways in which those who had left the profession could be enticed to return, but no urgent action was taken. Now with a new Government we have the much welcome Munro Review, but hard-pressed local authorities need help now.

Perhaps someone should organize a one-day think tank event to which ex-social workers are invited to give their views on what it would take to get them to return to practice?

Friday, 11 June 2010

Should Serious Case Reviews be published in full?

As some-one who once wrote an article about the value of anonymous reporting of errors in child protection practice, I ought to be very reluctant to embrace the Government's decision to mandate the publication of the full reports of Serious Case Reviews (SCRs). There are strong arguments that people are more willing to co-operate with an anonymous inquiry process and there will always be risks that details contained in the reports will identify surviving children and other family members.

However, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Government is doing the right thing. The current system of releasing only an Executive Summary of the report simply isn't working to produce widespread knowledge of what has gone wrong. Some recent executive summaries have been so uninformative that I defy anyone to learn anything from them, let alone important lessons about how to protect children  more effectively.

And I don't think that publishing the full report will necessarily harm the interests of the professionals involved. I have a strong suspicion that if we were able to see the whole SCR report, then we might be more likely to see the actions of individual professionals in context. We might see how their actions are often the product of systems and working environments rather than individual failings, slips and lapses. It might even make it more difficult for some of the more irresponsible elements in the media to target individual scapegoats, because organisational influences will be more apparent.

There will have to be careful redaction to protect the identities of third parties, but on-balance I think this is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Well done, Tim

Junior children’s minister, Tim Loughton, has been very wise to appoint Professor Eileen Munro to conduct a review to examine ways of reducing bureaucracy in children’s social care so giving social workers more time for direct work with children and families.

Eileen Munro is a formidable expert who has a unique grasp of issues in child protection. She will bring academic rigour, detachment and objectivity to issues which in the past have all too often been the preserve of a small group of senior figures in the children’s services establishment, bureaucrats and, during the closing years of the last government, political spin-doctors.

Her review will be a breath of much needed fresh air.

Time to raise the age of criminal responsibility

The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Paul Mendelle QC, is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to 14.

His call should be taken very seriously. The recent case of two very young boys convicted of attempted statutory rape is a most worrying sign that our criminal justice system currently appears to give no regard to issues of maturity. We must stop treating 10-13 years olds as if they were adults and accept that the heavy hammer of the criminal law is not an effective or humane approach in helping our children to become well-behaved citizens.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Channel 4 Dispatches "Undercover Social Worker" - 7th June 2010

Like Stanley Milgram's famous electric shock experiments, this programme (filmed undercover in a child protection team) was ethically flawed but impossible to ignore. I found myself feeling disturbed by the under-cover approach and concerned for the workers and service users covertly filmed. I hope that enough has been done to protect the identities of service users involved.

For me it raised four compelling issues:
  1. Overworked staff, suffering from stress and low morale. "No time, no support," said one of the workers. Several felt out of their depth. John, the undercover reporter employed as an unqualified family support worker, was allocated a very difficult case on his first day. He also undertook a child protection investigation. There was poor induction. "Our induction processes are crap," said a manager. Everyone was hard pressed and had too much to do. Many were working more than their contracted hours. As a result some workers were depressed and tearful. All seemed anxious and stressed. "The job's too much. It's not do-able," said one. 
  2. Cumbersome and obstructive procedures and administrative systems distracting staff from their work. John struggled with a 40 page assessment form. The paperwork was described as "overwhelming". Many forms were duplicated. A business support manager described the procedural manual as "totally unworkable" saying that it was written in "... a language which is totally alien to most humans". There were complaints of spending too much time in front of the computer. One person estimated that one hour of client contact resulted in 3 -4 hours of paperwork.
  3. Despair and cynicism. One social worker said, "You get your tick for performance, but you've done nothing meaningful." Another commented that "The work of a social worker is just to write reports and make referrals." Most shockingly John's manager advised him to protect himself by making sure that cases were closed, because then, if the child died, he wouldn't be held accountable. She said that the real problem was with cases "sitting at the back of the draw" but still technically open. "If one of those goes off on you," she said, "God help you."
  4. Those in need not getting the service they require. Members of the team seemed prepared to allow a looked after fifteen-year-old to sleep rough. A social worker remarked that visiting children on child protection plans once every ten days did nothing to keep them safe. Another said, "How's the actual child? I don't know because I've not seen them for two weeks doing all this administration." A corporate objective of closing cases had failed to put "slack in the system" and there seemed to be no alternative to continuing to reduce the numbers of children receiving help further.
Was this just an isolated example of things going badly wrong? Sadly it sits all too neatly alongside what we know about rising caseloads and workforce shortages. It is congruent with academic research which shows how the ICS approach to case recording results in needless administration and associated tokenism in recording. There were just too many echos in the programme of what we read in the summaries of so many serious case reviews. It had the ring of truth.

The programme should act like an electric shock (a real one, not a fake one like Milgram's) to all those members of the children's services establishment who have presided over what has happened to statutory child protection. It should be a wake-up call. Sadly I fear that there will be many sitting quietly on the sidelines hoping that in a few days most people who saw it will have forgotten quite how shocking it was. I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The ill-effects of Family Court Transparency

Retired judge Sir Mark Potter, who has recently stepped down from his post as president of the family division and head of family justice for England and Wales, is quoted by the Guardian as saying that he only reluctantly supported allowing the press to attend hearings of the Family Court.

He now very rightly observes that because most cases are heard in local courts, it is inevitable that local people will put two and two together even when cases are reported anonymously. He believes children are likely to become the subjects of gossip and bullying as a result.

It is sad that these forthright remarks come only after the changes brought about by the last Government have come into effect. And it gives me no pleasure that Sir Mark now seems to be endorsing the position I outlined in my letter to the Times (8th October 2008) when I seemed to be very much in a minority on this issue.

I have always believed that Jack Straw's so-called ‘reforms’ amount to a cruel betrayal of abused and neglected children, who now face having the most intimate details of their family lives aired in public.

The Guardian article also reports Sir Mark as saying that the family court system is in crisis with lack of funding and huge increases in the number of care proceedings cases following the Baby Peter tragedy. As a result children are being left in violent homes.

What a dreadful legacy, Mr. Straw.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Forthcoming Channel 4 Dispatches Programme, Monday 7th June, 8pm

Pre-publicity for this under-cover documentary looks interesting, speaking of the reporter discovering "... a lack of resources, inadequate staff support and training, high workloads, poor morale and overwhelming amounts of red tape and 'box-ticking'..." in a child protection team.

That doesn't surprise me, but I shall be tuning in to assess the evidence.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Continued Reliance on Temporary Staff

A survey from BASW published this week reveals continuing dependence on temporary and agency social workers in child protection teams. Apparently only 5% of child protection social workers surveyed said their team was fully staffed with permanent social workers. More than 60% said that their department was understaffed and 13% reported that their team was under-staffed by 50% or more. ( )

Continued dependence on agency staff and other temporary workers to provide child protection services is a major concern. Providing safe high quality services requires stable teams of experienced workers. And children and young people, some of whom may be looked after, are entitled to have consistent and long-standing relationships with social workers that they can learn to trust.

Serious staffing problems in child protection began in the mid-1990s and have not been seriously and effectively addressed. Urgent attention to this problem must now be a priority for the new Government.