Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Khyra Ishaq Serious Case Review

The Khyra Ishaq serious case report was published today. It is a substantial document that will repay thorough study.

On quick reading it is clear that the crucial mistakes occurred when Birmingham Children’s Social Care staff failed to pursue child protection referrals from the child’s school. It seems advice was given to the referrer that a Common Assessment should be undertaken instead.

I am not sure yet if there is enough detail in the report to discover what systematic failings resulted in these events. I shall be reading the report slowly and carefully in the hope of finding out more.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

ContactPoint is dead ... on 6th August. Let's celebrate!!!

It's good news that the Government has decided to switch-off ContactPoint on 6th August. Good-bye and good riddance.

Over the years lots of people have worked tirelessly to campaign against this silly (and nasty) system. Terri Dowty and ARCH have been unfailing in opposing it, as has Eileen Munro. I will always remember Professor Brian Sheldon saying that "... this misguided proposal will introduce the surveillance techniques of the Stasi into our national life". He was right.

Sadly the big children's charities went along with it. Hopefully they can quickly adjust to a new world where we don't need surveillance of the whole population in order to ensure children are safe, and where we can recognise and celebrate children and young people's right to privacy.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Birmingham Blues

There’s nothing I like less than reading an OFSTED report. The latest one that condemned Birmingham’s child protection services as "inadequate", following an inspection in June 2010, is no exception.

I don’t think that anyone would argue that it’s all sweetness and light in Birmingham. The local safeguarding children board is reported to be dealing with 20 Serious Case Reviews and a report commissioned by the city council last year identified important weaknesses.

But, not for the first time, I take issue with the pomposity of OFSTED. This report fails to give any clear picture of what is wrong in Birmingham, and its use of jargon and high-sounding but empty phrases, and the formulaic nature of its recommendations, makes me cringe.

The report speaks of “critical practice short-comings” (paragraph 14) but doesn’t tell us what these are. And apparently “quality assurance systems” fail to identify “major weaknesses” in casework. But what these are remains a mystery.

Then there is the familiar refrain that supervision fails to challenge “poor working practices”. Again no clue as to what these are and that smug assumption that people can only work well if they are confronted with their failings.

Not surprisingly the suggestions for improvement continue in the same one-dimensional bureaucratic vein. Apparently Birmingham must immediately “ensure that there is a detailed understanding of the deficits in current practice”; just like that! And it must immediately “take steps to comply in full with statutory requirements for safe staffing”. I wonder if people in Birmingham know what these recommendations mean. I don’t. It’s pretty hard to do something immediately if you don’t know what it is.

Then there’s the familiar old chestnut: “Ensure that all management decisions taken in relation to individual cases are immediately recorded on the child’s records.” Well at least that’s clear and tidies up the paperwork.

OFSTED seems not only to lack knowledge of child protection but also of management. If child protection services in Birmingham are ‘inadequate’ then I expect the reasons are quite complex. Resources, staffing problems, problems of staff morale and motivation, management style, organisational learning, process design and bureaucracy are all areas I would want to explore. And those are the sorts of areas which management needs to address to begin to make improvements. But all OFSTED seems to be offering Birmingham is blanket judgements and those horribly smug recommendations.

Good research from York

Researchers based at York University have just reported the results of a three-year study of the needs of 11-17 young people who are abused and neglected. A key finding of the research was that young people find disclosing maltreatment very difficult. They find it hard to form trusting relationships with social workers, who are often overworked and frequently changing. And even when young people succeed in forming trusting relationships with professionals, they are aware of the "far-reaching consequences", for themselves and for their family, and this often results in them not disclosing the abuse. Generally young people lack knowledge and information about how best to make a disclosure.


One of the researchers, Professor Mike Stein, is quoted as saying: “This research shows that we are far less responsive in understanding and meeting the needs of those young people who are maltreated.”

This research is on exactly the right lines. The researchers have focused on the extent to which the needs of abused and neglected young people are not being met and identify salient reasons why young people fail to disclose maltreatment.

I think the policy consequences of these findings are all too clear. Instead of services that are driven by internal targets and producer-focused procedures, we need to develop effective means of engaging with children and young people and providing them with services that they can actually use. And we need to listen to their views - as these researchers have done - about the best way of doing it.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Another year over ....

Having recently returned from a long summer holiday - hence no recent entries - I have just realised that it is one year since I started this blog. It's not so much a matter of what I have done in that year as what has, or has not, happened. In the UK a new Government has brought the promise of more measured and more considered approaches to child protection and has set up the very welcome Munro Review. But aside from these developments - which at this stage are all about promise rather than delivery - the last year has seen very little substantial change. In particular we still have:
  • Serious and seemingly intractable problems in recruiting and retaining child protection social workers
  • Highly bureaucratic systems and working practices
  • Out-dated and misguided approaches to improving safety and quality in child protection work
  • A chronic shortage of foster-parents
  • A dispirited workforce
  • Services which continue to be driven by producer interests and internally agreed targets, rather than by the needs and wants of abused and neglected children
  • The blame culture
.... I could go on but I'm already feeling the very beneficial effects of that holiday wearing off; and I don't want to end the day too depressed. And I don't want to depress others either, but there's no point in misjudging the size of the mountain that's been left to climb.

Another year over ... and a long way to go. And there's still no sign of the Khyra Ishaq serious case review!!