Monday, 24 October 2011

Towards a new "Working Together"

Civil servant, Jeanette Pugh, who is director of the Department for Education’s safeguarding group, is quoted by Children and Young People Now as saying that it will be difficult to meet the July 2012 deadline for publication of the revised Working Together document which contains the British Government’s guidance on responding to child abuse and neglect.

The brief for the Department is to produce a shorter, simpler document. I would like to suggest that the best way forward is to begin by making a much clearer distinction than is currently made between ‘regulations’ (“rule(s) or directive(s) made and maintained by an authority” – Oxford English Dictionary) and ‘guidance’ (“advice or information aimed at resolving a problem or difficulty, especially as given by someone in authority” – Oxford English Dictionary). I believe that the core of Working Together should be the regulations. Additional guidance should only be provided in this document if it is absolutely necessary.

The first task is to work through the existing four hundred page document to identify the regulations or rules which everyone dealing with child abuse must obey. The remaining guidance (advice and information) should be classified into four categories: (1) information or advice that is essential in order to understand or implement the rules; (2) information or advice that can be helpfully located in the same document and which does not detract from the essential rules; (3) information or advice that should be located in other documents; (4) information or advice which should not be provided.

Using this framework should result in a much shorter document. I would suggest that following a short (one or two page) summary of current policy, the document should move directly to key definitions (currently not encountered until page 34). I would also include here a much shorter version of Chapter 6 (“Supplementary Guidance”) to make abundantly clear at the outset the nature of child abuse and neglect and the scope of the required response. Chapter 2 (Roles and Responsibilities) should be reduced from its current 46 pages to no more than a series of brief paragraphs each stating the key responsibilities of each agency. All of this should occupy no more one short chapter in the new document

I would then move to a shortened version of the present Chapter 5 (Managing Individual Cases), believing that Chapter 3 (on Local Safeguarding Children Boards) should appear later in the revised document. Chapter 4 (on staff training and development) could either be relegated to another document or be greatly shortened, perhaps being included as an appendix.

Chapter 7 (Child Death Review Process) and Chapter 8 (Serious Case Reviews) should be combined with the rules set out in Chapter 3 (Local Safeguarding Children Boards) into a single short chapter. Chapters 9 to 11 are pure guidance but may contain some information that needs to occur along with definitions and statements of scope towards the beginning of a revised document. The remaining information is probably best relegated to a separate document.

I would expect that applying the following suggestions would result in a document well short of 100 pages in length and hopefully nearer to 50. Before publication it should be subjected to a rigorous critique by someone who is expert in writing plain English. Perhaps then we would have a document with which people would become familiar, rather than a document that most people have no option other than to skim.